Fickle lines of simple rhymes some a bit too complex to let rest on their own. I was never good at traditional poetry. Putting thoughts and feelings onto a page in a certain order fills me with...rage? Rage is the proper word to say right? and yet I am filled with defeat because rage can’t be beat in a contest of rhythm. Oh, golden poetry of words that rhyme seamlessly without doubt or question, when will you let me write you?
The Last American Outcast (written 2015)
So I went to the Smithsonian
and sought out the lunch counter
taken from the Woolworth’s in Greensboro
some fifty years ago
slipping under the velvet rope
I pick the pink leatherette stool on the end
and wait to be served.
All these uppity weirdos
the stench of outcast still lingering in the air
catsup hemorrhaged like blood thickened by the musk of history
me, the last of them, here in their spectral midst.
I had never known
nor ever even imagined
for a heartbeat that it would come down
to a person like me.
The curator is called and comes clicking swiftly perplexed.
“You are in a restricted area. What do you want?” she says in a stage whisper.
“To be served…like the others” I say.
“But you’re not even a…person of color …” she pleads quietly.
“No, and I am not Asian, Muslim, paraplegic…they all would be served.”
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“Just a stuffed tomato with chicken salad …and perhaps an ice tea, no lemon.”
“Who are you?” she asked again, cocking her head like a chicken
looking for defects
unseen to her naked eyes.
“I’m a mentally ill American.”
Her eyes widen and she speaks quickly into her phone calling for security.
“I have legal rights. You cannot discriminate”, I tell the uniformed men
who arrive and pick me effortlessly off the sacred pink artifact
and formally cast me out.
I glance back at the ghosts, eating their grilled cheese sandwiches and sipping cokes clinking glasses together…the Jews, Gays and Latinos.
My time has not yet come.
The last outcast in America,
not welcome at the great lunch counter of this free and accepting land.
But we feast on
cherries in the nightlife,
it's nighttime and the colors are blooming.
Bright red juice
stains our bare-foot feet
but we are humming
and dancing to a cherry-filled beat
and the darkness
it blooms with
flowers in the nightlife,
irises blooming in the nightlife,
The loveliest things seem to happen
when the night is so thick that
youre only a dream.
(and our world is drowning in cherries.)
Giselle sat at the small table in the Parisian café where she was waiting for her date to arrive. Jacques should be along any time now. Paris was a very busy city, as was Jacques, and it was quite possible he’d been held up by unforeseen events at work. At any rate, she was sure that he would be arriving shortly. He had promised her, after all, that tonight would be a very special first date for the two of them. They had been working together for a year now at the store, but they had never been on a date before this evening’s planned event.
Despite sipping a glass of Merlau, or Merlot, a relatively new wine in Paris that was harvested from succulent grapes in the Bordeaux region, she could not quell the butterflies that flew about her stomach in anticipation as she waited. The wine was rich and velvety, while also fruity and spicy, and had become a favorite for her. As she continued to sip the Merlau, her attention was drawn to the corner where two men sat drinking their forbidden drinks of absinthe and talking. Whatever it was they were discussing, it was obvious that their conversation was intense and somewhat heated. One was a handsome, slender, tall, and blonde-haired gentleman, and the other was a bit shorter and stockier, with dark hair and a beard. Eventually, after becoming angry and frustrated, the stockier gentleman rose from his seat and abruptly left.
Surprised by their public disagreement, Giselle quickly looked away toward the door in hopes of finding Jacques arriving, but such was not the case. When she turned back to look at the remaining gentleman, he gave her a delightfully handsome smile and shrugged his shoulders. As she smiled somewhat timidly back at him, he picked up his drink and leisurely walked toward her.
“May I sit for a bit, my sweet? I fear my friend has suddenly left me alone, and I find myself in need of companionship,” he smiled charmingly as he took a seat at her table.
Giselle was a bit startled by the man’s boldness, but she didn’t want to be rude. “Of course,” she said. “However, please know that my date will be arriving very shortly.”
“Lucky man,” the tall, slender man said as he settled himself comfortably in the seat across from her. “I’m Scott,” he said with a beautiful smile that had obviously impressed many.
“Hello, Scott. I am Giselle,” she smiled back at him.
“So, you are waiting for your sweetheart, are you?” the man asked. It was obvious that he was American. “Your intended?”
“Oh, no!” Giselle quickly said and then shyly smiled. “It’s our first date after a long time of knowing one another. We work together, you see.”
The man smiled ruefully and with exerted concentration, began, “Ah...l'amour. Love is so very splendid and beautiful when it’s fresh and new. And yet, as time morphs by, it so often becomes a damning element in our lives,” he said, his smile fading to a frown. “I should know,” he added as he held up his left hand for her to see that he was married. “At best, you can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.” The handsome smile returned with the last bit of information.
Giselle was uncertain how to respond. Who was this American and why did he have such a sad view of love? And why was he inclined to share it with her? It was obvious that he’d had more than enough to drink. Perhaps this is why he and his friend had argued.
“Sir,” she began, but he immediately interrupted her.
“Please, I must insist that you call me Scott,” he said, his eyes soft and kind as he appealed to her.
“Scott,” she said. “Perhaps you’ve had enough to drink for this evening. I thought that this drink was forbidden anyway,” Giselle whispered as she pointed at the milky, green drink. She knew that absinthe had been illegal in Paris since 1915, and yet, here this gentleman was drinking it a full ten years later as if it was not.
Scott looked down into his glass and smiled. “My sweet, young girl, only such intense pleasures are derived from the forbidden.”
Giselle blushed at his words and quickly attempted to change the subject. “Where is your wife tonight, sir…Scott?” she asked.
The man gave her a rueful smile. “I fear she finds her pleasures in the forbidden as well,” he said and then sighed. “Alas, she has taken off with her friends for more exciting times than intense, heated discussions between my friend and I – as you have just unfortunately witnessed.”
“I see,” Giselle said, genuinely sorry for this man’s current misfortune in life, friendship, and love.
“Do you? Do you really see?” Scott asked, intently watching her and awaiting her answer.
But unsure how to respond, Giselle once again attempted to deter the conversation from the question with which he had just presented her. “Why are you in Paris? Are you working here?” she asked.
“Paris is such a beautiful city, full of so many opportunities. I am here at present, attempting to write my latest novel, my dear, at least on good days. On bad days, like today, I drink and argue with my closest friend. And I suppose one could say that I tend to drink - and argue - frequently,” he said as he took a large swallow from his glass.
“Oh! You are a writer! What are your books about?” Giselle was genuinely interested.
Scott smiled a broad, attractive smile and nonchalantly leaned back in his chair. “Well, let’s see, Giselle. I mostly write about love. Don’t you find that a bit ironic in consideration of the view of it I’ve just painted for you?”
Giselle was indeed perplexed. It was odd that a man with such a dismal or disappointed view of love would choose to write about it.
“Well, let me explain my pretty, petite French flower,” he said as he leaned on his elbow across the table to look intently into her blue eyes. “I write about love, my dear, because I am a hopeless romantic, and I have not yet given up on achieving its fullest capacity in my life.” He relaxed in the chair again and took a sip of his drink before he continued. “I have a need to know and understand love; to have it fill me to the depths of my being. In fact, I crave love with an intensity that extends beyond a need for food or sustenance of any kind.” He picked up his nearly empty drink and waved it in the air. “And believe it or not, I crave love more than I crave even this poison.”
Scott took another sip of his drink before he added, “Hope for such things springs eternal, does it not?”
Before Giselle could ponder an answer, however, she was saved as he suddenly rose and declared it was time for yet another drink, and then he headed to the bar. She watched as he ordered another absinthe drink. Before he could return, Jacques entered the café and immediately found and joined her at the small table.
She rose and kissed Jacques on the cheek. The smile she gave him assured him that she was very happy to see him.
“I am so sorry I am late, my sweet,” he said. “I was detained at work.”
Giselle smiled sweetly. “It is not a problem, Jacques. I am just so happy to see you now.”
The two potential lovers were interrupted as the stranger stopped by the table to speak to Giselle and meet her guest, a fresh drink in hand.
“I see your friend has arrived,” Scott said, and smiled at Jacques, extending his hand and introducing himself.
“I fear I was a bit lonely for the moment, and I kept your sweet date entertained for a short while as she waited for your arrival,” Scott said. “We had a very thorough discussion about love, and I gave her my most earnest opinion on the subject.”
As Jacques’ brow rose in surprise and question, Scott continued. “I informed your sweet Giselle that I am a hopeless romantic and believe that love will eventually win the day for all of us. Ah, and I can see from the way you look at this delicate, beautiful French damsel, that it may very well be the case for the two of you.” Suddenly Scott turned very serious and gave a gracious bow before he said, “I pray that may be the case here, and that love will triumph like the spring in Paris for the two of you. I can see that it is already a flower nearing a full bloom.”
And then, as suddenly as he had appeared before them, he turned on his heel and headed to his former table where he was joined yet again by the gentleman with whom he’d been arguing earlier in the evening. The two friends now hugged, laughed, and patted each other on the back as they continued their deep conversation.
Giselle nervously eyed Jacques, who was looking at her in amazement.
“Jacques,” she began. “I did not know what to do when he approached and began to discuss such serious things like love. I found him to be a rather sad man, always hoping to find love in everything and everyone.”
Jacques continued to stare at her in disbelief. “Giselle,” he said. “Do you not know who that gentleman is?” he asked.
“No, I don’t have clue who he is. I know that his name is Scott, and I know he’s American, but that’s all.”
“My dear, sweet Giselle, that is none other that F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous American novelist. And he is sitting with Ernest Hemingway, another very famous American writer. The two are well known throughout Paris for their carousing ways. They drink nothing but absinthe and champagne – or so the story goes.”
Giselle dubiously eyed her date. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway? I’m not sure that I know who they are,” she said. “However, Scott did tell me that he is a writer.” She stared at the two men as they conversed, a new view of Scott taking root in her mind. She would have to buy one of his books just to see how he wrote about that thing called love for which he continuously searched and hoped.
Giselle turned back to her date and smiled. “Famous American writer or no,” she said. “I would much rather be sitting here with you, Jacques, enjoying this wonderful Parisian night.”
Jacques picked up her slender hand and kissed it. “And I, with you, my sweet Giselle. But still, not just anyone can say that they had a date interrupted by someone as well-known as F. Scott Fitzgerald. Perhaps you should consider picking up the trade and writing about such an incredulous story as this!”
Giselle shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I will leave the writing to the two of them,” she said and the couple laughed as they began the first night of many to come for them.
Indeed, a lifetime of love and special nights spent together would be forthcoming for Giselle and Jacques. And who can say? Perhaps it was due to the ardent wish from someone like F. Scott Fitzgerald that propelled their love to triumph and achieve the ultimate end. Regardless, there is little doubt he would have been immensely pleased, and perhaps a wee bit envious, of the love the two shared over the course of their lives.
I will help
The sorcerer circled the group.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, six young witches stared at each other apprehensively. Not quite daring to raise their heads so he could see their eyes, they shifted nervously. He understood they were sure this was another form of torture.
And so, it starts. I have another damaged group of spell makers, who have such potential if I can only get them to understand their own worth. If I can get them past the bullying of their peers, they will have their own revenge.
“Introduce yourselves.” He lifted his arm, his hand slipping from black robes and pointed to the first elf. He had three of them in this gathering, the others were two fairies and a wyvern.
How had a wyvern ended up bullied to the point of needing my particular brand of help?
“Sylvin,” the elf was a boy, his voice squeaky with fear. “I’m just the idiot who will never cast a spell.”
Yes, indeed so it begins. He isn’t a dummy, none of them are. But they’ve been scorned and told they are worthless from the first moment they were accepted into the academy. They would need to understand, there are always going to be those who will look down on others. It isn’t their fault and once that key little thing becomes part of them, their recovery will be magnificent.
“Eggred,” the wyvern whispered. Hardly daring to look at the others. “I shouldn’t even be looking at you. My eyes are useless, I can’t even begin to mesmerize anyone. Mama says I’m a useless excuse, a waste of feathers.”
There were nods around the circle. The sorcerer looked them over and waited for the next introduction.
This group would be a challenge. Their situations so dire, they’d been removed from their families and brought to his village to be housed together. No one was sure I could help them transcend the conditioning of their early lives. These six, weren’t only abused at school, their parents, despicable sorts that they were, had started the job at birth.
I wish I could cast a spell and undo this mess, but it doesn’t work. I tried that with the first three who came to me, crying and asking to die. They were much older. I always thought of the disastrous results of thinking an incantation will do the job. I’ve learned the sooner we discover these poor children, the easier it is to change the way they think. The most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and more rewarding than the biggest most spectacular spell. Their healing will come from within.
The sorcerer stood patiently as each of the youngsters stumbled through this first exercise. He never prodded them to hurry up or cut into the process to speed it up. This was his way of letting them know they were important. As the last girl finished, he walked around them and then lowered himself between Eggred and Sylvin.
“You aren’t worthless. I’m here to teach you how to get past that. As the next weeks go by, you will come to understand the pain you are in is not your fault. You will learn to understand you have the power to overcome. You have already survived long enough to come to my special classes. I will be your teacher; your friend and the one who brings you out of this tortured existence you know as life.”
“I don’t believe you,” Bellini cried. Her wings fluttered, shaking as she dared to protest.
“You will!” the sorcerer declared. “Call me Indref. I will help.”
in my dreams
~ here’s to wishing you were in my life, not in my head ~
i hope you’re happier than you’ve been ever.
i hope your smiles light up the room you’re in and that your laugh is infectious.
i hope you have the stars in your eyes and the sun in your head.
i hope you wake up every day with a smile on your face and go to sleep with a happy heart.
i hope you sleep easily and love everything you do.
i hope you have the best days you can imagine.
i hope you’re happy for the both of us, since I can’t even remember the last time I smiled.
it's funny how i can still hear your laugh. i can still feel the heat of your breath on the back of my neck when you give back hugs. i can practically hear your little giggle when i trip over nothing but air. it's funny how you still seem like you're here, even though you're only really here when i'm asleep.
"Nooooo~" you whine, playfully slapping my hand away from the screen of your laptop. "Not yet!" I make a face at you and you laugh, tapping my nose lightly. You laugh again when I sit away from you, crossing my arms. You wrap your arms around my waist, snuggling closer to me and nuzzling your nose into my neck.
"Don't be mad! I'm just not done yet," you said, slightly muffled. I sigh, tilting my head back onto your shoulder.
"Hey, I want to see it-" you interrupt me by squeezing me tightly around my waist and placing a soft kiss on the side of my neck.
"I know, I know, but I want it to be done when you hear it, okay? It's dumb, but I want you to be so impressed." I look up at him to see a pink blush spreading from his ears to his cheeks. I smiled up at you, turning in your arms and giving you a kiss on your forehead.
"Okay, fine. But only if you promise I'm the first one to hear it." You nodded happily and pressed your forehead against mine.
it's weird, going through my day without you by my side. you're a constant presence in my dreams, so not having you in my life feels unreal. i want to tell everyone about us, but i'm afraid of what they'll say. what we have is too real to just be a fantasy. right?
I'm sitting on the edge of the couch, watching you peacefully nap. I don't want to sit down, too afraid of waking you up and making you lose precious sleep. You work too hard, and even though I don't nag you about it, I still worry. It's not healthy to work so hard without letting your body rest.
I get up and carefully brush your bangs from your forehead. Dropping a small kiss on your nose, I turn to leave when you pull me down on top of you. You open your eyes slowly and give me a sleepy grin, holding me to you so I won't fall off of the small couch.
"Stay. Please?" He mumbles, already drifting off. I smile at him, then interlace our fingers together. Even when he's completely knocked out, he still finds the time to show his love for me. How the hell did I get so lucky?
i cried today. everything is getting to be too much without you here. it just gets so loud, you know? all of the different expectations, all of the different faces i put on. i don't even know who i am anymore. i can't even remember the last time i did something i wanted to do. i just wait for the nights i can spend with you. with you, i don't feel forced to be someone i'm not. in the hurricane of voices and expectations, you're my safe space.
I know exactly when you walk through our apartment door because I can hear the excited sound that comes from you when you see the package on the table. I can hear your quick footsteps from the door to the table, where you pick it up. I laugh to myself when I imagine the look of awe and excitement on your face when you see what's inside.
Not much longer, I feel your arms snake around my waist once more. You love doing back hugs and placing your chin on the top of my head, bringing me close to you and inhaling my scent. We stood like that for a while, me trying to move as little as possible while I work on moving the dishes to the cabinet. He hums, brushing my hair across one shoulder and leaning on the other.
"Babyyyy~" he says, taking one of his hands and bringing it to mine, intertwining them. "Did you get the new hoodie I wanted? In black?" I smiled and nodded, bringing his hand to me in order to kiss the back of it.
"Maybe. Did you like it?" I ask, trying to place a glass on a shelf but not being able to reach it. Chan takes it from me and places it there before turning me around and putting his free hand on the counter behind me. You smile at me softly and tilt your head, love radiating from you. I swear I can see galaxies in your eyes.
"Do I like it?" You kiss my nose and smile at me, biting your lip. "I love it, babygirl. Thank you," you pull me in closer, closing your eyes and breathing deep. "You know," you say, opening your eyes. "You can steal it anytime." You wink at me and my heart dips. Your dimples are showing and I can't stop myself from throwing my head back and laughing.
it hurts. every part of my body aches. i tried so hard this morning to get up out of bed, but it was so difficult without you there. i wanted you to hold me like you do when you're cold in the mornings. i wanted your gentle pecks and the way you say "good morning" in your tired morning voice. i wanted you humming a song in the bathroom while we got ready for work. i crave you and your time.
I walk through the door to see you sitting at the table, your head in your hands. From where I'm standing, I can't tell if you're crying or just tired. Walking closer, I can tell you're upset from the way your back curves out and your shoulders are drawn in. I rub the heels of my palms gently across your shoulder blades. You sigh heavily and raise your head to look back at me. Your eyes don't have their usual shine and the corners of your mouth are turned down, the dimples I love nowhere in sight.
I rub your forehead, concerned when you don't say anything at all. You just close your eyes and lean into my touch, sighing again, just more softly. I sit down next to you and wrap my arms around your waist, side hugging you. I sense, more than see, you relax and lean against me. Before much longer, I can feel you start shaking and your breath getting irregular. I look up at you to see tears silently streaming down your face. You're pinching your lips together, trying not to make noise. When you see me looking at you, you bury your face in your hands once more.
I try my best to let you know that I'm here, that you don't have to hide anything from me. I gently rub your back, I scratch the back of your scalp with my nails, I sit next to you, breathing softly so you know you can lean on me if you feel the need to.
You slowly stop sobbing, becoming calmer and not shaking as much.
"Love?" I say quietly. I begin to think I didn't even say it out loud, with the lack of response I get. After a few moments, though, you turn and immediately wrap your arms around me, pulling me as close as you can get. Burying your face in my neck and shuddering, you hold me as we sit in silence. Your face is wet from crying and my shirt is starting to get uncomfortable, but I would go through anything for you.
"I don't know if I can keep pretending I'm okay," he whispers against my skin. "I don't know if I can keep lying.”
i spend my waking hours like i'm sleeping, and i treasure my sleep like my life. but that's nothing new. i forget that no one else knows you. i talked about you with some friends yesterday. one pulled me aside and asked if i was in therapy. i think it's funny that they think i need protecting from you. as if you were the problem. you're the only normal thing in my life right now. who needs therapy when i have you?
Great grandmothers Locket
Sarah opens the locket she has worn from her youth. Tears fill her aging eyes as she gazes at the pictures. Sadness and happiness both flow through her mind. Looks up, someone is entering the room. Her mind jolted back from the Civil War to the present. It is 1912, in Salina, Kansas, New Year’s Eve. With Sun warming her shoulders, the Sanitarium attendant enters her room escorting a visitor.
As the young visitor sits down she notices a locket in the elderly woman’s hand says, “You miss him? I do too.”
Sarah’s face lights up with a smile. “Yes, I miss Christian. Today it has been 27 years since I failed him.” With tears in her eyes, she holds tight to her treasure. She hopes never to lose the necklace like she lost him. She asks, “Julie, please stay for a while.” The young lady, somewhat surprised at her response, nods her head in agreement.
I remember Christian; He was a handsome fellow. When I gave him a kiss, I had to stand on a chair. He was a mountain of a man, all muscle. That guy could work harder than any fellow I had ever known. He was kind to a fault; he constantly gave a calm answer, never a vulgar word came from his mouth.
The young lady adds, “He was handsome, and you would be hard-pressed to find a gentleman better than Father. His hands were weather-worn, but they could be soft and sympathetic when he would touch me on the head because I did the proper thing. And his smile would warm your heart.”
Sarah, smiling, “Yes, his laugh would melt me into my shoes. It is hard; it has been 27 years now.”
The young lady asks, “What is this on the table? I don’t think I had ever seen this before.”
Sarah’s trembling voice explains, “I asked the attendant to retrieve it from my travel trunk. So I could share it with you.”
With curiosity, the young lady picks up a wood box with a hook that holds it shut.
Sarah encourages her, “Unhook it and tell me what you see?”
Opening the box, gasping with surprise, “Why, it is a picture of Father he seems so youthful?”
Sarah responds, “It was his traveling papers from Gothenburg, Sweden. You can see the ship’s name on the papers.”
The young lady read, “The ship was a Briggen named Minona Gudiva.”
“I remember Christian telling me about his journey like it was yesterday. Christian was only twenty years old. He told me his story while sitting in the mercantile having lunch. I asked him how he came to America.”
His reply, “Leaving Switzerland, I had turned twenty. Father spoke to me. Times changed and war is in the air. Everything you need is in here. He handed me a travel pack. You are a man now, go to the Land of Milk and honey. He gave me his blessing.”
After leaving home, I opened the pack and found clothes, money, and a letter. Hardship was common with my family. My mother’s name was Julia Engel. She was from Prussia. Jewish persecution there was terrible. She moved to Switzerland, where she met my father, Johann John Jacob Hobieler. The Catholic and Christian led government require Jews to convert to Christianity. If they refused, they would lose their citizenship and the right to own land.
My father’s Jewish name Ya’akov or Jacob, son of Abraham; mother’s name was Yocheved, which means the house of Levi and the wife of Amram, who was Mother of Miryam, Aaron and Moses.
Because of the entire persecution father named me Christian August Freadrich Hobieler, father taught Hebrew and gave me a name that only he and I knew, Zalman. It is the Yiddish for Solomon, the son of King David. My Jewish name Is Zalman Ben Ya’akov.
During my travels, both names have given me safety and guidance as I journey to the land of milk and honey. The trip from Sweden took two months, and then I arrived in New York, a place called Castle Gardens. It amazed me how many people spoke German and Yiddish.
Having only my travel bag father gave me. I had placed my money in my shoe. Journey through the streets of New York, searching for a friend of my father, became dangerous. People were hungry, begging for money and food. A man grabbed my bag and ran. As I chased after him, he ran down the street. He ran between several freight wagons and disappeared.
A man was loading a wagon I called out, “Did you see which way that man was going.” To my surprise, the man replies in Yiddish. He continued loading the wagon. “that thing happens all the time, just got off a boat?”
He smiled and said, “Do you know how to drive a team of horses?”
I replied, “My father taught me, yes.”
He smiled, “My name is Yitz’chak my English name is Isaac.”
Still holding the Letter his father gave to help find Jewish synagogue.
Isaac asked, “What is it you have in your hand?”
I handed him the letter.
Isaac smiled. “After I load these wagons, I will go to this synagogue. Help me get these two wagons loaded and we will go together.”
That is how my father met your father. I remember your father sometimes laughs out of the blue. He says to me, “Sarah, well today I am 40 years old, and so is the homeland.”
Nettie says, “That was the same year that Henry Caesar was born and…”
Sarah interrupts her. “We must not talk about that now! Christian only received one letter from his mother and father. He wrote them while we lived in Virginia. It is there, in the box. Please read it.”
Nettie understands Sarah has always confused her with Julia. Nettie continues to pretend. With all her heart, she wants to know about her grandparents. It something not discussed among the family. She picks up the Letter, reads it out loud and realizes written in Swiss German. Mother, thanks to you and Father, I can read this, but my German is not the best.
Translated into English reads:
My dearest Christian;
We received your letter before being evicted from our home in Nidau Bern. We lost our citizenship because we are Jews. The persecution has become a problem here. We learned we can regain our citizenship by moving to Lengnau or Endingen; the common lordship of Baden is kind to the Jewish people. Now the canton of Aargau is giving citizenship to Jews. Father is doing well. He sends his love. Father is confident that Adonai will give us safe passage. Father and I wanted you to leave before you could get entangled in the war. We praise Adonai that you are safe. Father says, He had a dream you will do well in the new land flowing with milk and honey. Remember to the Shema; do as I taught you. Love Adonai with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love others as yourself. Do not worry, live and serve Adonai. We will see you again in the world to come.
Sarah continues telling the story. The irony of all things Christian came to America to escape war. Now, after several battles fought in Virginia close to home, we moved to Ohio. My father and your father took everything we had and loaded into two large freight wagons. Father had sold everything and put it into hard cash, gold. Father divides the gold into two boxes, which he places in each freight wagon. If we lost one wagon during our travel, this would leave us something in the other wagon.
We left Virginia just after the Battle of Cheat Mountain on September 16, 1861. Father would drive the first wagon and Christian driving the wagon following father’s lead. We arrive in Ohio in the winter. The snow was blowing. Father arranged with the land office to buy a farmer’s house.
At the time I was only seven years old; my father had stocked the house with food. We had plenty of wood for the winter. I remember Father giving my mother a pistol and a rifle to keep. He kissed my mother, Mary, goodbye, and kissed me on the head. He left with Christian. They joined the Union Army at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, Company C, of the Ohio 113th Infantry Regiment. Father held the rank of private, as did Christian for three years’ service under the command of Colonel James A. Wilcox. That was the last time I saw both of them till the end of the war.
We received a letter from my father. Both father and Christian were outside Tennessee. The letter you can read is the next thing in my box. The letters are in order. Please read them, Julie?
February 14, 1863,
My Dearest Mary and Sarah,
It has been a long time since I have written. Please forgive me. Christian and I traveled to many places. We traveled a long way from Ohio to Tennessee.
Today, our company commander asked if we could ride a horse and shoot. We are waiting for orders. Christian and I volunteered. The mounted infantry regiments needed more men to join. Many of the men were sick, and some died. Christian and I have a fresh horse to take care of and a new rifle. It seems we will be in training till they need us. I hope the money I left holds you through the war.
If we do our part here, we will be home sometime soon. You are in our prayers, Christian, and I say our prayer twice, sometime three times a day. We pray for Adonai to make a speedy resolution to this war. We know of some men here have family in the Confederate camps. It grieves us that brother is against brother. We are sure this war resembles the time Israel and Judah became separated from one another. Adonai was not pleased with them, as I am sure he is not pleased with America.
We are well. May Adonai protect and cover you with his wings of protection.
Sarah, with tears in her eyes, says, “Julie, do you understand more about my father and Christian now?”
Julie responds, “Father and Christian will be in the Tullahoma Campaign. They joined the later famous Lighting brigade. They were very courageous men, and many men die it the battles they fought. Now I know why my father did not talk about this when they came back. I read stories of this unit and how they saved hundreds if not a thousand lives, by their courage and fighting skills.”
Sarah quickly responds, Isaac and Christian were heroes in the war. Adonai protected them throughout the war. Please read the next letter.
July 7, 1864,
Dearest Mary and Sarah,
All is well with Christian and me; we are around the area of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and will move soon. Just like Psalms 91: You who live in the shelter of Elyon, who spend your nights in the shadow of Shaddai, who say to Adonai, My refuge! My fortress! My God, in whom I trust! He will rescue you from the trap of the hunter and from the plague of calamities; He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings, you will find refuge; his truth is a shield and protection. You will not fear the terrors of night or the arrow that flies by day, or the plague that roams in the dark, or the scourge that wreaks havoc at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it won’t come near you.
This is our testimony that Adonai has protected us and will, so we may return. Christian says we will return to find the Land of Milk and Honey. I believe this, too, with all my heart. Adonai has heard your prayers.
Sarah interjects, “But, a month after receiving this Letter in September that same year, I lost mother to consumption. Mother was thirty-three years old, and I was ten years old. Before mother passed and had me go to the town, she gave me a gold coin. Mother told me where the two boxes were in case I need money. She sent me to fetch the Doctor. I ran to town a got the Doctor. I gave the Doctor the gold coin, and he said he would take care of everything. The Doctor came, and mother passes that night. Then the Doctor had some men from town to bury mother just outside her garden spot behind the garden house.”
Julie asks, “How did you manage? You were only ten years old?”
Sarah responds, “The Doctor saw the mezuzah on our door when he came in. He knew a Jewish family outside of town and told them about me. Not long after that, a wonderful Jewish lady knocked on the door. She came to check on me. She helped me prepare food; I surprised her I could cook so well. I told her mother taught me, and when she was sick, I cooked soup for her after I killed a chicken. Mrs. Golden was a very gentle person; she helped me for some time. Then one day, she stopped coming. It was just before father returned with Christian. I take care of myself until they returned. Please read the next letter, Julie.”
June 5, 1865,
Dearest Mary and Sarah,
We will muster at Louisville, Kentucky, where our service is complete July 6, 1865. We will come home soon. It will be a wonderful day to see you and Sarah again. It seems a lifetime ago since I kissed you goodbye.
Just like we left, Christian will be at my side. He has saved me from death more than once. He is closer to me than a brother these days.
Words cannot describe the joy in knowing the war is over. It is as if we had been born again as our strength and resolve has increased to continue to search of that Land of Milk and Honey.
We will arrive as soon as possible. May Adonai watch over you both.
Sarah remembers receiving the Letter as she wipes the tears from her face with her scarf she had to cover her head. Sarah regains the composer. “The Doctor, along with the Sherriff, arrived with the Letter the postmaster had given them. They knocked on the door as I had just finished making bread.”
The Doctor enters with the Sheriff following him into our home. The Doctor says, “Is that fresh bread I smell?”
I replied, “Please come to the table. I will give you each a slice. It is cooling in the kitchen. The Sheriff makes his way to the table, passing the Doctor by. As they sit, I give them a slice of hot bread and apologize I do not have butter. But would you like a little honey on your bread?”
The Sherriff amazed. “Dear girl, where did you get this, honey?”
I explained, “I found bees made a hive in the garden house outback. Mrs. Golden, before she stopped coming to help me. She taught me how to get the honey and use it like sugar. I made this bread the way she taught me. How is Mrs. Golden, I miss seeing her?”
The Doctor explains, “I found her not too long ago. We had not seen her in town for some time. So I was close to her home and stopped by. Well, I found her. She had passed. She had a smile on her face, as if she had seen angels. I will never forget how peaceful she looked. I bury her in the town cemetery, next to our other Jewish friends of our town.”
The Sherriff has finished his bread and honey says, “The Postmaster gave us this letter from your father. We wanted to check on you, given what had happened to Mrs. Golden. We are overjoyed, child. Seeing you is doing well. Here is the Letter.”
The Letter in Swiss-German, I could read some. What I could make out is that Father and Christian were coming home. With tears in my eyes, I told the kind Doctor Father is coming home. After I calmed myself, the Doctor says, “Child, if you need anything, please come to town. The Sherriff and I will help you until your father arrives. Do you need anything?”
Think I grew two inches or more that day, as I replied, “Thank you both, but I will be fine. I still have the garden, honey, and some flour left. My chickens are laying. I will be fine till father arrives.”
Sherriff agrees. “I will check on you from time to time till he returns. Miss, you make the best bread I ever had in all my life.”
As I stood at the door, I watched the doctor leave in his buggy and alongside him, riding on a speckled gray horse, was the Sherriff waving to me.
“Oh, I long for father’s return. No longer was I worried about father. Then it hit me, how can I tell father about mother?”
Silence, sadness, and joy filled the room. Eyes filled with tears, “Father will be home soon. How this has set my world upside down.”
Her eyes looking right through Nettie as her face changes. “I remember first meeting Christian in Virginia. Father had a mercantile business in Virginia. It seemed he was always shorthanded for a driver and needed a righteous man to help him. He would stop by the synagogue each time he went to New York for supplies. He would find a driver for a one of his freight wagons. It was not unusual for the person who drove the freight wagon for father to leave him once they got to New York.”
Father was loading his wagons and was in deep prayer for a righteous man to work with him. He saw a youthful man was chasing a robber who took his bag. Father asked, “Just got off the boat?” That is where it started.
Before leaving, they stopped at the synagogue; they took on the journey to Virginia. As time went on, Christian and my father became very close. They prayed together, worked together, and he was part of our family.
Sarah’s thoughts drift to father’s return after the war. “It was a scorching summer’s day at the end of July, and it was unbearable as I sat on the porch fanning myself. On the dusty road leading to our home, I see two men walking. Joy now filled my heart seemed like a dream; it was father and Christian. With tears flowing down my face, I rushed to the arms of my father. He picked me up like I was only a feather’s weight. Joy filled my heart as he kissed me.”
Father asks, “Is your mother in the house?”
My heart sank. I could no longer speak as I took father by the hand and led him to mother’s grave. He fell to his knees as he cried uncontrollably. Christian by his side, looking for some way to comfort him, realizing there was nothing he could do. Christian takes me by the hand, leading me back to the house. Christian and I sat in the house at the kitchen table.
Christian asks, “You’re a fine young lady to take care of yourself. How long has it been, taking care of yourself and the farm?”
Sarah explains, “I told him the story as I have told you, Julie.”
Christian’s reply was, “Your dad has a present for you. Isaac remembered you just had your Eleventh birthday.”
Julie now tearfully asks, “How old was father then?”
Sarah smiles. “He was 26 years old, and I did not understand that we would get married in nine years. But we are getting ahead of our self. I want to share with you what happened when father came in from mother’s grave late that night.”
Julie asks, “How long did grandfather stay by grandmother’s grave?”
Sarah remembers, “It was getting dark as he came into the kitchen where I sat with Christian. Father brought both boxes of the gold coins in with him. He sits them on the table.”
Father says, “It is still all here. Sarah, how did you and your mother do so well?”
Sarah boldly says, Adonai, he blessed us. He provides for us every day. The garden produced more than we could eat. Mother sold the produce in town along with chicken’s, we had more chickens and eggs than we could use. Mother sold them in town. She could trade for milk, flour, and salt. Mother said Adonai has given us a blessing from heaven. I know he will bless your father and Christian with his angels.
My father said she was truly an Eishet Chayil (A Woman of Valor), Adonai be praise she is truly being missed here but now is heaven’s gain. It appears to be the Angels watched over her and escorted her to the world to come.
Then I told my father about my mother, how she gave me a gold coin and sent me to town. Father hung on to every word.
He kissed me and said, “Sarah, bring me my coat.”
I retrieved his coat from the front room. He reached in the pocket of his coat and a small box with a ribbon of yellow. I opened it on there was this locket. There were no pictures. He reaches inside his coat and gives me a brush for my hair. It was so beautiful!
Father said, “The locket I bought for your mother. I am sure she would want you to have it. The brush is your birthday present.”
Julie said, “Mother, I thought father gave you the locket.”
Sarah replies, “Father gave me the locket, but your father gave me the locket after I lost it. Your father put these pictures in the locket. Julie, so this evening before the New Year, I wanted to share this with you. I want you to keep the box and all that is in it. I want you to promise that you will share it with your four children and their families. In this way a part of my mother, father, and Christian can survive through you.”
Julie somewhat puzzled, “Why was my father named Christian, and our family is Jewish?”
“I had the same question. During the Jewish persecution in Switzerland, the Catholic Church used what power they had to make it mandatory to be a member of their church or dreadful things would happen. During the time Christian was born, it was a time of trouble. Like Daniel, and his friends forced to take on Babylonian names, so was the reason father gave him the name Christian August Freidrich Hobieler. His Christian name helped him to get to safety in Sweden. When he arrived in New York, the government changed his name to an English spelling Hubler. Christian explained the name Christian means believing in the Christ, to his father a believer in Messiah, which they believe will come someday. Many Jews had to give up their Jewish names or become outcast, prison or worse.”
My father’s name Christian August, which is truly a Christian, but what was the Freidrich?
It was his Grandfather’s name; he was a very pious Jew, respected by the people in his community. He spent time in jail several times for his beliefs in Adonai’s instructions, which he was an excellent teacher. His kindness extended to others. He had a Jewish name as Rabbi Israel of Zürich. But he went by Fredrick, which was a popular name in Switzerland before and after it became a country. All this was because of the Catholic Church and its influence in the country.
Julie, with amazement, says, “We then have a lengthy history of Jewish heritage. What about grandfather?”
“Yes, his father’s name, Peter Levi Peck. The very name Levi gives way to the fact his family line was of the line of Cohens, which performed the priestly duties when the temple was in use in Jerusalem.”
Julie responds, “Wonderfully, I am filled with joy to know that the family history points to the Land of Milk and Honey. Which once was Jerusalem; it is just a vast desert place now.” Julie thinks for a moment and says, “Mother, what did father mean he was searching for the Land of Milk and Honey?”
Sarah continues saying, “I am glad you asked. Let me finish telling you the story and you will understand. When father returned with the two boxes which had the gold coins in them, he gave one to Christian.”
Father Isaac said, “Christian, hold on to this for me, I will talk with the Doctor and Sherriff.” He took two coins out of the box then, placing them in his pocket. Father closed the box, sliding both boxes to Christian.
Christian says, “I will care for Sarah and the farm.”
Isaac replies, “I will be back before sundown tomorrow.”
I told father, “Father, both the Sherriff and the Doctor have been very kind to me.”
“I know, and then he left.”
Isaac arrived in town and went to the Sherriff’s Office. He saw a boy cleaning the office and asked, “Do you know where the Sherriff is, son?”
Boy replies, “Yes Sir.”
“Sherriff went over to the Hotel to get something to eat there. He will be back soon.”
Isaac asked, “Where is the doctor’s office?”
The boy walks to the doorway and points across the street and says, “There is the Hotel,” then points up the street and says, “That is where the Doctor’s office is. But, if you go to the Hotel, I am sure you will find the Sherriff and Doctor having breakfast.”
Isaac says, “Thanks.” As he leaves the Sheriff’s office, he heads across the street. As he enters the Hotel, he could see there to his left several tables where people were eating their breakfast. He goes to the entrance of the small café and walks up to the Sherriff and introduces himself.
Isaac says, “Sherriff, my name is Isaac Peck.”
The Sherriff stands up and offers his hand, says, “I am Sherriff Henry Masters; this here is Doctor Wiseman. We know your daughter Sarah. How is she?”
Isaac smiles, “She is doing well, thank you both for helping with Sarah and my wife.”
Sherriff responds, “Happy, we could watch after her. Mrs. Golden helped until she passed on. Hope you know that?”
Isaac responds with a grateful heart and says, “Could you take me to Mrs. Golden’s grave?”
Sherriff says, “We are about to finish up here. We can take a walk to the other end of town, and we will show you.”
Isaac asks, “Did she, Mrs. Golden, have any family nearby?”
The Doctor replies, “Yes, about two miles out of town to the West. That is where the farm is. Some kinfolk moved in after that. They heard she had passed about a month ago. Friendly folks too.”
Sherriff asks, “Would you like a cup of coffee or tea while we finish here?”
Isaac said, “I could use a proper cup of coffee.”
The Doctor says, “Understand you mustered out near a month ago. The word is out your entire unit will receive a monthly pension of about Twelve dollars a month. There was a news article in the newspaper this month. We heard about the Lighting brigade of Ohio 113th Infantry Regiment. We are glad you are home safe.”
While the Doctor was talking to father, the Sherriff got your father a cup of coffee.
As father took a drink said, “It is the best coffee I have ever had.”
They sat there looking at father as he savored every bit of that cup of coffee. Father later said, “It appeared everyone in that place watch as he tasted every drop. You could hear a pin drop; it was that quiet as father enjoyed his coffee.”
Christian and I had our breakfast together. I made flour cakes with honey with a fried egg.
Christian watched me in amazement at how I cook to work in the kitchen at such a young age. He said, “Watching you make breakfast was like music played to perfection without missing a note or missing a beat.”
After eating, I asked, “Christian, what are you going to do now the war is over?”
Christian smiled and said, “I will remain with you and your father. It looks like we have a lot of work to do here on the farm to get it in shape. I need to find a safe place to put your father’s boxes today.”
Father with the Sherriff and the Doctor, they walk to the edge of town to the graveyard. There was a simple plank of wood. Above the name was a Star of David, and below written was “Yaakov bat Solomon Mrs. Golden. 1798–1865.”
Isaac said a prayer as the Sherriff and the Doctor removed their hats in respect.
Father told me he asked them both, “Is there a stone cutter in town?”
The Doctor replies, “Jonathan Jones.”
Father takes from his pocket two gold coins and says, “Could you have him make a proper Stone marker with this star on it for my Mary and Mrs. Golden? I want to make a trip out to the Golden farm and have a talk with her family. My daughter is being cared for by my friend Christian, who served with me in the war. Please drop by and visit.”
Sherriff replies, “Just follow that road about two miles. You can’t miss it.”
Doctor speaks up, “I will have Johnathan start on the Markers.” As father walked off to the Golden farm, Father said, “He prayed all the two miles for Adonai’s guidance and favor.”
“Julie. When your grandfather arrived at the farmhouse, a man met him at the door. Your grandfather could hardly believe it. It was a man from 113th, Jeff Jacobson, and his brother-in-law Ira Golden. The short of it was they would move next month to La Clede, Kansas, to establish a Mercantile. People are moving west, and this would be a prime spot to start. They ask my father to join them. So we spent the summer of 1866 in Ohio and our plans changed.”
Julie asks, “What kept you all in Ohio that you left in the spring of 1867?”
“The weather changed, it was terrifying, floods came and twisters. I was never so scared in all my life.”
Twisters leveled a brick schoolhouse in town. So many people died. Then the floods came. The country side was a disaster. Dozens of farmhouses and barns destroyed.
We survived the storms in a fruit cellar that your father had made. A twister destroyed the house, the garden shed, and barn. Mother’s Gravestone father had bought still standing. When the floods came we moved to higher ground to Golden’s farm. Manny people got sick, and some died from the lack of fresh water. It was a time of great trouble.
Father said, “Adonai mercy spared Mother’s stone marker. We are to continue the search for the Land of Milk and Honey. Like Moses taking the people out of Egypt after the plagues. Father and Christian were looking for a home of plenty where Adonai’s Shalom peace will be.”
“Adonai directs a person’s steps, and he delights in his way. He may stumble, but he won’t fall headlong, for Adonai holds him by the hand. I hope you understand now, the Land of Milk and Honey is the home and Land where we can live our lives in the safety of Adonai.”
Nettie asks, “So, what did grandfather do with the farm?”
Sarah explains, “Father and Christian salvage what they could, which wasn’t much. Father went to town and placed the farm for sale. In the early spring someone bought the farm.”
Julie responded, “You were starting all over. Leaving mothers grave behind must have been hard?”
“Mother is in the world to come, the body is in the ground. But, we will see her someday when Adonai returns to the Land of Milk and Honey, child. We must go on our journey as our people have for many years.”
Nettie asks, “Mother, what were your plans?”
Sarah said, “I was thirteen years old, my appearances no longer a child. The spring of 1867 father divides up what we had left of the gold coins in as he had in the past in our two wagons. I would ride with father in the third wagon following Jeff Jacobson, in the second following Ira Golden and his wife, Yentah, in the lead wagon. Christian followed behind us in the fourth wagon. Father bought supplies to for the Mercantile we would start. We had little in household items left from the storms. My father kept me close by his side. Father had a plan, from what I remember. When we get to Kansas, we would start a business buying and selling goods for the settlers headed west. All the men agreed they could work together, building a pleasant life for us all. The plan seemed to work well. Father and I worked mostly in the Main Store of the Mercantile. Christian and Jeff drove freight wagons with supplies for the Mercantile. Everything seemed to go well.” Sarah stops talking and is holding back the tears.
Julie says, “What is it, why are you crying?”
Sarah says, “Give me a moment… I must tell you a terrible story. On one trip, Jeff gave a ride to an immature boy he was about 18 or 19 years old, his name was Nicky Burris.”
Julie gasps, and then says, “No, mother, it isn’t true!”
Sarah continues, “What I am about to tell you, I have told no one over all these years. I was seventeen years old; it was in getting cold in late November 1871 when they arrived. The last trip of the till the following spring because of the nasty weather. Nicky helped unload the wagons with the rest of the men. We had a place for hired workers to stay in the back of the Warehouse. That is where Nicky stayed with an old man by the name of Ben, who we hire to do odd jobs and keep the Warehouse in order and clean.”
Nettie says, “I am so confused, why mother, are you telling me this now?”
Sarah calmly and bravely says, “I want you to know the truth. As a woman and a mother, now, you will listen to my story. I need to have my heart clear about this matter! Nicky was not a friendly boy at all. It was late, and I went from the house to the Warehouse to get some flour. I hear some groaning, and I found old man Ben on the floor with his head bleeding. From behind me, Nicky grabs me, forced himself on me. He left me on the floor, half-naked. I gathered myself and saw Old man Ben was not breathing. I ran to the house and Christian, your father, opened the door. Father and the other men helped me to my room. Christian went after Nicky. Ira and Jeff left after helping me to my room with father. Then Jeff and Ira went to check on old man Ben. They watched after him all that night, but the next day he died.
Christian returned with Nicky two weeks later. Nicky had stolen a horse and Old Ben’s money after raping me. Nicky had taken my locket; he ripped it from my neck when he raped me. Christian took Nicky to the Marshals Office and had him locked up. They had a trial, and later, Nicky hung for murder, horse thief, and rape.”
“It was August 1, 1872; Ida May Burris Hubler was born. Christian gave her his name and the father’s name. Christian felt secrets were the foothold of the devil. Giving Ida May her father’s name; he planned on telling her someday. He gave her his name Hubler to secure the love he would show her as a father till the day of truth.”
Julie asked, “So Ida May was not my full sister, but a half-sister?”
“Yes, it is true. But as far as Christian was concerned, she was our child. Then, before her second birthday, Ida dies from summer diarrhea the April and May sickness.”
“March 28, 1874, Christian took me to Louiseville, Pottawatomie County, Kansas, where we married. He gave me my locket with his picture on one side and my father’s picture on the other side of the locket.” He said this is my wedding gift after placing the ring on my finger. Father was there and was at our marriage. He said, “His cup of Joy was running over. I was 20, and your father was 34. I became pregnant with you, Julie. Through our sadness at losing Ida May, we found joy in having you. It was October 1, 1874, when you were born as Julie Anna Hubler, named after Christian’s Mother Julie, also after my grandmother’s mother Anna, who lives in Germany.”
Nettie, with tears in her eyes, “So I am Father’s firstborn child, what a loss you must have had losing Ida May.”
Sarah smiles and says, “Yes, and you saved your father from the grief he felt losing Ida May. It was the start of the Hubler family. The family grew too. Later on October 12, 1878, Franklin Charlie was born. He liked the name, Charlie.”
“Blessings and tragedies in the next year would change the direction of our lives once. Henry Caesar and Harvey Emil were born just after midnight, 1 January 1879. This is the anniversary of their births thirty-three years ago. Then in 1882 Julie you were born and your twin sister Nettie. You are my Joy Julie.”
Nettie cried, “Mother Julie died in the accident in 1884 she was two! I’m Nettie!”
Shaking and wide-eyed Sarah looks at Nettie… “I am so sorry, it was my fault! I remember, she fell, and I grabbed her. The wheel broke… OH… Julie she fell under the wagon as it dropped to the ground. Nettie, it was you I saved… not Julie?”
“Father brought you here to get better… Mother.”
“Christian is gone too?”
Nettie, “tell you I am leaving for Oklahoma with my husband Jesse. He calls it the land of milk and honey.”
Sarah, “Nettie take this wooden box and locket. Remember us and Adonai how he has watched over us as you go with your family to the land of milk and honey.”
Unborn Yet Born
I dream of a baby in my arms
The baby that was unborn
So soft, so tender, so smooth
was its skin to touch
Stretching out arms wide
Innocent tear-filled eyes
Watching me live my life
I wake up to watch my baby
sleep next to me
Tranquil, solace, abundant love
All in her destiny
Her baby brother in another world
envying her fortune
Wanting her to realize
her luck in being my child
I make no difference
Whether born or unborn
I love you both
For you are from me to be mine
PC - Pixabay - DisappearingDiamonds
Going For a Drive
I can’t believe my medical electric scooter broke yesterday. Of course, my five year old son had to play around with it in the driveway, pretending it was a space shuttle. I was sitting at my kitchen table eating my organic bran flakes when a playful yelling came from the front of the house. I sluggishly got up and opened the front door. My son Ben was sitting on the pleather seat, his legs dangling above the four wheels. His short arms grasped the foam handles, causing his body to lean forward awkwardly. He made several spaceship noises with his mouth and rocked it back and forth until he knocked it over and the darn thing smashed against the pavement.
Thankfully, he got off with only a few bruises, but as my mom always used to say “if you break it, you buy it, and if you can’t buy it, get a substitute”. That substitute was my son’s mini Hummer that he drove around our small lawn.
I wasn’t sure if it would hold my weight at first. Ben’s small and skinny frame was nothing like my three hundred-pound-mass. This morning I stood in the garage hovering over the small vehicle nervously. Ben’s Hummer was small, but also much wider than my scooter. The small vehicle could’ve been mistaken for the actual car if it weren’t for its size.
The poor kid would probably kill me if I broke it, but I needed to get the groceries downtown while my wife was on a business trip. As I stood there scheming in the garage, her enthusiastic voice intruded my thoughts.
“You should really try shopping more often.”
“All that healthy stuff at those whole food stores still tastes amazing. You’d be surprised."
While I was hesitant about the idea at first, making weekly rounds to a whole foods turned out not too bad. Places with local groceries always smelled of fresh fruit, even the larger ones. Most of their health foods were quite good, though calling them health foods was debatable at times. I’m not the type to shop, but getting groceries could be a surprisingly calming slice of my day, especially when I could’ve spent it in front of my blaring TV. As my mind wandered back to my task, I hoped the Hummer’s seats wouldn’t be too uncomfortable.
When I sat down in the car, it heaved beneath my weight. By some miracle, it did not give out. Ben’s car is a hardy little machine. Despite it only being meant for twenty-minute long cruises across twenty-foot driveways, the thing had a solid metal frame under all that cheap beige plastic. Even the tires had a thick coat of rubber on them. I might even go as far as to say that they are of better quality than my scooter.
The car went much slower than it would go during Ben’s mini racing escapades, but it went fast enough so I could beat out a speed walker. It also felt good to think about cruising by those annoying people that always butted in front of me when entering the line to the deli. Even worse, they tower over me intimidatingly with their expensive yoga pants and spandex shirts.
As much as I’ve enjoyed eating organic fruit for the last few months, thanks to encouragement from my wife, whole food stores can be downright terrifying. I can’t help but feel horrendously out-of-place wearing triple extra large Packers t-shirts within a sea of stick-like aliens trying to sell me ginger kombucha. To add insult to injury, I’m always on a scooter, bringing out at least a dozen nasty looks whenever I visit. To add more insult to injury, I was going in my son’s toy Hummer. Lord knew if it would fit through the doors, and lord knew if they’d even allow me in if I made past them.
It took a bit of work to get the thing into the car. Thankfully, our 2006 Chrysler van still had a working ramp in its left side door and the back seats pushed down that allowed for an easier entry. That crappy old thing had about a dozen rusty dents in its back bumper from the Halloween incident six years prior. At the time, my older son, Sam, was in the back of the car, huddling from the cold in his Harry Potter costume. The plastic broom he had sitting on the ground went flying when I crashed into the Stevenson’s mailbox. I had been distracting myself by opening a nut roll out of Sam’s plastic pumpkin because he didn’t want them.
By some karmic force, the broom had hit me hard in the back of the head when the car bashed into the Purple Vikings mailbox, beheading it and sending it flying five feet back into the lawn. I found it all quite hilarious. I assure it wasn’t on purpose. By some miracle, the Stevenson’s weren’t home. Sam and I had ended up placing the mailbox next to its split pole. I’d almost thought of duct taping it back on, but ended up just leaving a roll from my car at the doorstep. They never found out it was me, which was probably for the best considering Vern Stevenson is the kind of guy who’s serious about burning foam cheeseheads in his backyard fire pit.
While driving down the freeway, I passed by a circus show stadium I took my boys to every July. I kept thinking about those crazy people who made tigers jump through flaming hoops. Every so often, they’d make it smaller till not even they know their large furry companion will pull it off. I wondered if those poor things ever felt embarrassed when their pelts were set aflame during the final act. Was all the attention worth it for their tasty meal of fresh steaks afterwards? Perhaps they didn’t do it for the meal in the first place. Maybe it was all for the high of an adrenaline thrill. I have no idea why tigers do the things they do. Maybe I would find out for myself. Going through a grocery store is no flaming hoop, but it sure seemed that way to me.
Getting the little car out into the grocery parking lot was a breeze. I don’t know why all those scooter engineers didn’t design their models after rideable toy cars. They wouldn’t go so slow and would look ten times more badass. Instead of looking like some unusually old and fat college student on an abnormally slow moped, I could look like an unusually old and fat man driving an abnormally small Hummer.
When I slowly cruised down the sidewalk, a couple of teenagers held their phones toward me. They were playing a game of soccer in the parking lot before I caught their eye. My best guess would be that they’d post the videos on Reddit. Not that I really cared. Getting a thousand upvotes and becoming internet famous for a week didn’t sound too bad to me. At least it wasn’t as bad as how the people inside would treat me when they saw me block the aisles with my big tires. Despite the whining and complaining that would ensue, they could suffer the twenty minutes. At least eighty percent of them practice meditation anyway.
A few chuckles and suppressed grins assaulted me when I went through the doors. Thankfully, the toy Hummer fit, but just barely. No staff stopped me at the door. Instead, they laughed with the others and took a few pictures with their phones.
“Nice ride man!” said a nearby cashier.
I lifted my hand and made a peace sign as I drove past. My action was followed by a few enthusiastic whoops and light applause. I didn’t engage in conversation. My goal was the deli. I fumbled in my pocket and took out a list. Unfortunately for today, I could only get a few things from it as my small ride didn’t afford much room. I got the last chuckle when I passed a few people before they could go in front of me in line. I bought a large fillet of smoked salmon and continued with my shopping. By this point, the shoppers divided into two factions: the ones who found my actions quite childish and the ones who found my presence downright hilarious. As expected, the glares I received were exponentially worse than my usual cruises. To that, I say, if you attach two large barbells to your shoulders and can still walk twenty feet without having to rest, then we can talk. As much as the typical customer sees my actions as the equivalent of a vegetarian who smokes a pack of cigarettes per day, I take more steps around the store week by week. That would be the final act of today’s show. Today, I would walk through three isles to the produce section. I’d done two last time.
The only difference in today’s routine was that I had nowhere to put a large bag of apples. The hummer had a trunk, but that was only for show. In reality, it was nothing but part of the plastic covering that went all the way around the tiny vehicle. When I got near the produce section, I stopped the car and slowly got out. This was probably for the best considering it was smelling like an electrical fire. I was still holding my bag of smoked fish from the deli. I might have to tough it out and carry everything in my lap when I left the store.
It seemed to take a millennium for my stumpy legs to waddle to my destination. I put as many apples in a bag as there were people standing around me when I got out. Four people had looked in my direction, humored and confused when my large figure unstuck itself from the tiny car. Two of them were an older couple in golfer attire. They asked me where I’d gotten it from. The other two were joggers in expensive yoga pants and spandex tank tops. They asked how the car managed to run for so long. I answered all their questions by simply saying that I didn’t know and laughed heartily. I grasped the bag of apples as I came back to the car. Every one of those granny smith’s would be especially tasty as I ate them throughout the week.
I waddled back to the Hummer and sat down. My feet were already hurting from being sandwiched between the floor and the rest of my weight. Despite my pain, I was somewhat proud of putting in that mileage. While my mind was preoccupied with thoughts about nails pushing into my calves, I was proud that I even got this far. The accomplishment gave me a generous boost of confidence.
Unfortunately, the concerning electrical smell hadn’t gone away. It would be only a matter of time before the others would notice, and they would kick me out. When I went up to the cash register, I realized my absurd side show wasn’t over. The cashier looked down at my Hummer, very concerned as it sputtered and spewed out some smoke. Ben’s car was electric, and I had probably driven it too hard. Before anyone asked questions, I moved to the doors.
“Hey, you forgot your receipt!” joked the cashier behind me. Smoke billowed out from behind. If anyone were snapping pictures at this moment, it would have looked like I was farting grey fumes. The smoke became a large, musty cloud around the vicinity, causing nearby shoppers to fan the air or cough. I drove out the doors as the grey cloud thickened. A car abruptly stopped in front of me as I tottered past it. It was a police van with two confused officers looking out from their front windshield. To my horror, I realized I still hadn’t entirely escaped from my daring stunt. A small red flame flickered out from behind me. As my car moved painfully slow across the road, I could see one of the officers mouthing “what the fuck” from their car. Once I had past them, the cop car drove forward. They turned into the next parking lane. While I didn’t want to believe it, they were likely trying to park near me.
I was only a couple of feet away from my car. If only I had something to douse the fire. I didn’t have time to take out my ramp either. If I couldn’t figure something out in the next two minutes, the Hummer was going to burn. The groceries I had placed on the ground next to it might go up as well. The assholes behind me would probably charge me with reckless endangerment or some other stupid bullshit. I could only hope the packed parking lot would buy me some time.
A couple of young voices caught my attention. The same two kids who snapped pictures of me when I first entered the store appeared from behind my car.
“Hey, you need some help?” one of them said. The one who spoke was a teenage girl holding a handheld fire extinguisher, and the other was a teenage boy standing next to her. He was still holding his phone and snapping a few more pictures.
“Yes, that would be great. Thanks a million, you guys.” I said. I got out of the Hummer. I didn’t want them to go near the flames, but the girl walked over and doused them out anyway. Within seconds, the hummer looked like it had gone through a severe blizzard. The only difference was that this snow bubbled to the ground.
“You should have seen yourself come out!” giggled the girl. “Thank God, my mom has an emergency kit in her car.” I thanked them again and hastily opened the side door. To my surprise, the teens pushed the burned and doused hummer up the ramp into my car.
“You better get out of here,” whispered the teenage boy. With the Hummer stashed, I closed the doors.
I had placed the apples and fish on the pavement, picked them up again, and put them in the passenger seat.
“That was so awesome!” chimed the girl. “Come back again.”
I let out a chuckle and opened the driver’s door.
“Well, we’ll see about that,” I replied. “I might need a different strategy next time.”
I waved goodbye and drove off. Thankfully, the cops did not follow me when I left, though I saw their annoyed expressions in my rearview mirror as they got out of their car and saw me drive away. As I moved out onto the freeway, a big smile took over my face. If I weren’t driving down a fifty-five mile an hour road, I would have put my arms over the steering wheel and died laughing. Instead, I fumbled around in the passenger seat. My hand wrapped around a plump granny smith. I took it and munched on it as I continued to drive.
Cyril gives an update
Without any prospect of breakfast, he waited around inside his cell until mid-morning. By that time he needed company, so he strolled as far as the exercise room. Raj was running the treadmill. Cyril and Agnes were standing beside him, keeping his chains untangled.
"Hi there," said Cyril brightly. "Why don't we get caught up now. I'm sure you're dying to know how I ended up here." Truthfully, Harold wasn't, but he'd nowhere to hide. That's the problem with prisons.
"After you guys escaped," said Cyril, "the officers had it in for me. They said it was all my fault, like I'd released the animals."
"That doesn't surprise me," said Harold. "They always blame the little guy, the one at the bottom who can't fight back."
"You got that right," said Cyril, then settled into a long reflective silence.
Thinking the silence unnaturally long for someone so talkative, Harold asked, "So you got into trouble?"
"You were going to tell me how you ended up here."
"Ended up here?"
"When last we spoke, you were unmarried, stationed in Anderport, and serving with the liberation army."
"I know that," said Cyril sharply, looked puzzled and slightly cross.
"Well, now you're married and stationed in the evil queen's castle."
Cyril stopped to consider these facts. "You know you're right," he said. "When you put it like that, I've been through some pretty big changes."
"Didn't you notice?"
"Well, I've been kinda busy."
Harold felt they'd make more progress if he controlled the agenda. "So how did it happen," he asked, "you being here and all?"
"Well mostly, I gotta thank the union."
"Why thank the union?"
"Well, the senior ranks was really ticked about Raj escaping. They were gonna put me and my buddies in front of a firing squad. They said I'd colluded with the enemy. That's why I got married."
"Now you've lost me."
"You know I've been with the liberation army for over fifteen years?" Harold answered he didn't know that.
"Well, see. I've got these vested pension rights," said Cyril. "Quite a lot, in fact. If Agnes hadn't married me, they'd have kept them all. No dependents, see. But once I'd got me a widow, I'd get to hang on to me pension."
Harold could tell that Cyril wasn't entirely clear on the concept, that having his widow inherit was not the same thing. Still, better her than the army, thought Harold, who turned to Agnes and asked her, "Did you really marry him for his pension?"
"That was back when they was gonna shoot him, what with me being single and that. The families wanted us married so I went along with it. I mean to say, when you know he'd be dead in a couple of weeks, you don't have to like the guy. That's not how I feel now. Ever since we've been chained up together, I've grown quite attached to Cyril."
"Well you would, wouldn't you?"
Agnes looked puzzled but gave no answer, causing another long silence. Once more, Harold took charge. "What was it you were saying about the union?"
Cyril promptly became expansive. "The union insisted I hadn't colluded. They said I'd been duped and exploited, that I was merely incompetent and they shouldn't expect any better from me."
"And the union does not regard incompetence as justifying disciplinary action."
"Right. You can't have people doing that."
"Absolutely right," said Harold strongly. "Nobody's job would be safe. So what did the army do next?"
Cyril sneered. "Well, they chickened out, same as always. The union stood its ground so they had me transferred instead."
"But surely not to the enemy."
"What's wrong with that? It's the same union. It's just a different local."
"And you kept your rank?"
"They had an opening for a jailer in the queen's dungeons. I'm told it's a job with a high turnover rate. I don't know why, I don't ask. I figure it's better not to know. I'm a married man now. I've got responsibilities."
"Well," said a smiling Harold, "I'm delighted. Congratulations to both of you."
"Thank you," said Cyril and Agnes together, smiling back.