Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Al’s office phone rang. It was Sarah. After a second of silence and an awkward hello she said, “I found out I was pregnant. Yesterday I drove to Jersey and went to the clinic. I have to take it easy for the next few days but the doctor assured me that I would be alright. It was a decision I had to make for myself.”
As the haunting words penetrated Al’s heart his mind shouted, “No way in hell is this my wildflower.” If he could snatch the next words out of the air and stuff them back in his mouth he would, but they were out. He spewed, “What gave you the right to kill our child without even talking more with me?” With the words out, the phone went dead.
Al sat at his desk for the longest time, just staring at his old typewriter. His boss must have noticed because he hollered his name and told him to come into his office. Al walked in to his office and said, “I have to leave, I might not be in tomorrow. I have personal business that I need to take care of.” With the words out he turned and left his bosses office.
Late that night Al stumbled in through Bee’s back door. Making it to his room he opened the bottom drawer and wrapped his hand around his bottle. At that moment he heard a knock on his door. He set the bottle between his feet. There was another quiet tapping on his door and then Bee’s voice. “Is everything alright Al?” Her voice was as quiet and pleasant as ever. Trying to disguise his upset he said, “I’m alright, just tired.” Bee wasn’t convinced and asked if she could come in. She took his silence as approval. Opening his door she found him sitting on the side of the bed holding his head in his hands.
Standing near the end of the bed, Al could see her worn-out black leather shoes. In her warm voice he asked, “Dear Sweet Al. What's wrong? I've known something was bothering you ever since you came. I've heard you at night, late, when the house is quiet. I’ve heard you crying. I wasn't going to say anything, but tonight I knew I just had to.”
Al began sobbing. Bee moved a chair to the side of the bed. Sitting there she put her arm around his shoulder. The long sleeve of her cotton house dress rested on his neck. Her touch moved his heart, and he began to tell her about the past months. Bee wept as Al told her about his nightmares and the vanishing girl in the red mist.
Friday, May 25, 2018
Sixty miles down the coastal roadway they spotted a road sign that captured their attention. Sarah said, “I’ve been down this road dozens of times and I have never seen that sign before.” Al replied, “Well, it looks as if it has been there for years and years. Let’s go and see what the place is like.”
The sign was easy to read, “Food - Best on Road”. Al pulled the car onto the parking lot of gravel and potholes. The place was rundown and in need of paint and a few repairs. Holding Sarah’s hand the front steps creaked and sagged under their step. As he opened the flimsy front screen door, it creaked, and the spring twanged as it pulled the door shut behind them.
Glancing around, Al shrugged his shoulders as if he was asking Sarah if she wanted to stay. Just seconds after the door slammed they heard, “Just have a seat you two and I’ll be right with ya.” With a grin, Sarah took a couple of steps and sat at a window table. A puzzled look crossed their faces. With a whisper he asked, “How did she know it was just the two of us?”
A rotund black woman came out of the back room. Her smile filled her face as she said, “Well hello. How are you two love birds doing this glorious evening? You can't hide love from Rose. I've seen it a million times, maybe more.” Al thought she was being far to forward and inconsiderate. Rose's next sentence made his jaw drop. With a hand on her hip she said with attitude, “Yea I know you think I'm rude and forward. Well, I guess I am forward. Now, this is the best place to eat along this road for miles.”
Recovered, Al asked, “So how’s the gumbo?” Rose’s reply was short, “It’ll be the best gumbo you ever had, or it’s free.” Al looked over at Sarah and asked her, “Are you up to trying the free gumbo?” Sarah smiled, getting the jab, “Sure I’ll try the free gumbo.” Rose turned with a chuckle, “Free gumbo, when they get done they’ll be willing to pay twice. Free gumbo, I’ll give’ em free gumbo.”
As they sat waiting Al said, “Look around this place. It is an absolute mess. These tables and chairs must be forty or fifty years old.” As he finished, Rose came out with two large bowls and set them on the table. Standing next to Al she said, “So, my place looks dumpy. Yea the tables and chairs are close to fifty years old. But you know what? Folks don’t come in here to eat my tables and chairs.”
Reaching over and putting her hand on Sarah’s shoulder she smiled and said, “If it is too spicy put a tad of sour cream on your bread, and take a bite of the bread as you eat the gumbo.” Sarah took her first spoonful and the look on her face was priceless. Gasping, she said, “I think I’ll try the sour cream.”
With those whispered words, Al and Rose took too laughing. Al laughed for a few seconds, his eyes never leaving Sarah. Rose was laughing to the point of tears. After trying the sour cream Sarah said, “It works. Thanks.” To which Rose responded, “Can’t have you not liking my gumbo, now can I?” With that said she let out another laugh and turned to the kitchen.
Thursday, May 17, 2018
His pace walking down the side of the road was as determined as ever. The rumbling in his stomach was equally set in a queasy dance. As he got close, he could see Sarah sitting on what looked like an old church pew on the porch of the pizza place. Lynnhaven Pizza, lettered on an old metal sign, hung out from the eve of the pizza joint. The closer he got to her the more vivid his memory of their first encounter. This evening she was wearing another long skirt, sky blue with some type of lace.
When he was three or four steps away, she jumped up from the pew, her smile as big as ever. “Al, Al,” she said, “I'm so glad to see you.” To say the least, he was surprised at her excitement and smile. She ran the few feet and kissed him on the cheek. The smell of Lilacs filled his senses; every cell in his body was under her control. “This place has the best pizza in the world,” she told him.
Inside they took a booth near the front window. Al, looking around like a reporter, took in all the setting. There was a single row of booths along both walls and a row of tables down the center. The counter at the end served as the place to order and pickup. . There was an old chrome soda fountain to the right of the counter. He thought, “Man, it’s been a long time since I sat at an old soda fountain.”
Sarah, as excited as a child at Christmas said, “I’ll order the pizza, it’s my favorite and I know you will love it.” After she said that he thought, “I’d love it if it was cardboard and ketchup.” She seemed to spring from the booth and in a flash was at the counter ordering the pizza. At the counter she ordered two mugs of root beer from the soda fountain. She carried the mugs to the table and set them down. A moment later her upper lip escaped the mug covered in foam. Al snickered a bit as she said, “What, never seen a root beer mustache?”
When the pizza arrived it was smothered with fresh wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh shrimp, and three cheeses. In between bites, which he really enjoyed, he watched Sarah. She ate her pizza like she lived, unfettered and loving every moment. When he laughed, she asked, “What’s so funny?” He chuckled as he said. “I swear it looks like the shrimp and mushrooms are trying to escape their trap.”
Thursday, May 10, 2018
A few short hours later, captured by his own words, “Where in the hell is she?” And, Williams’ voice echoing back, “Dear Mother of God, she's gone.” The damn red mist shakes Al out of his nocturnal torture. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed he pulled the sweat soaked t-shirt away from his chest. Aunt Bee’s hand embroidered pillow cover with red and yellow roses is discolored and wet where his head fought the losing battle with his mind.
Holding on to the bedpost Al lurched for the bathroom door frame. Gaining support from the unyielding oak he staggered the next few steps into the bathroom. Drops of sweat burned his eyes as he tried to focus on the toilet. Now, the twisting and grinding in his stomach put him on his knees in front of the stool. Half-sitting and half-lying on the cold tile, his head rested on his right arm. The cool ceramic bowl touching his skin was in sharp contrast to his burning face.
Sometime later, when he was sure his stomach was empty; he tried to get off the floor. With his left hand on the sink and right hand on the stool he pushed himself upright. Gripping the sink, the cold water was soon splashing up into his face as it hung near the basin. The old mirror revealed dark and sunken eyes. His always combed and neat hair looked as if it had been greased and slicked down.
Muttering out loud, “Don’t you look like hell? If this is gonna be what my head feels like, well.” Turning away from the mirror he reached for the door frame. Steadying himself he walked over to the bed. Turning around, with one hand on the night stand, he sat down on the bed.
The voice in his head asked, “What kind of headache is this? The others were nowhere near this bad. God, I’m not sure I can take too many of these.” His trembling hand reached over and opened the bottom drawer of his night stand. Pulling out his glass friend, he placed him between his knees. Unscrewing the cap and using both hands he raised his friend to his lips and took a long gulp.
Looking at the old wind up alarm clock, he thought the red mist would leave him alone as long as he didn’t sleep. He stared at the clock, the hands moved laggardly. Near dawn he was back in the bathroom and stepped into the hot shower. The water ran down from his head and shoulders and the warmth eased the tension in his neck and shoulders. Done in the shower and looking into the mirror on the medicine cabinet, he muttered, “You still look terrible.”
Going down the back stairs he found Bee in the kitchen. With her back turned she said, “Good morning young man. I have scrambled eggs and ham for breakfast or you can have French toast.” Al, a little off guard responded, “Now how did you know it was me? And, I’ll have both, if it is alright.” With a chuckle she said, “First, I know how you walk, with determination. Second, of course you can have both. Just sit yourself down with a cup of coffee and I’ll bring it in to you.”
With his back to the kitchen, he sipped on his first cup of coffee. Bee came through the swinging door and around Al’s right side. She came close to spilling the plate when she set it down and looked at his face. Gasping, she asked, “What on earth is wrong? My Al, you look dreadful. Are you feeling alright? Can I get you something to help?” Al’s response was short but not reassuring, “I’m alright, just had a bit of a headache last night.”
Thursday, May 3, 2018
With the protest over, he wanted to get a good cup of coffee and relax. It was an absolutely beautiful day in the city. The sun was warm, and the breeze was nice as he made his way to the coffee shop. He ordered his coffee and sat out on a bench near the park. Looking into his coffee his mind went back to the bunker and a tear-streaked little girl. “Damn war,” he thought, “damn the politics, she was a little girl.” He was startled as he looked down at bare feet, a prairie skirt, and cream colored peasant blouse. The girl with the light brown hair was standing in front of him, her smile as bright as the sunshine.
Looking up into her smile, he asked, “Care for a cup of coffee?” She answered, “Is that an offer, are you buying?” They walked inside and she said, “I’ll take mine black, please.” “Now,” Al said, “I was positive that you were a cream and sugar person. Most people that I know that drink their Joe black, are either late night workers or military.” He paid for the coffee and they went back to the bench.
Sitting on the bench, they both tried to ask the same question. “What’s your name?” Chuckling, maybe from the awkwardness, Al said, “I’m sorry, you go first.” She responded to the uncomfortable reporter, “I’m Sarah, and I know you are Al.” He was surprised and the look on his face told her so. She said, “It’s right on your press card, in pretty big letters I must say.”
The two sat on the bench chit-chatting until Sarah asked him a straightforward question, “When were you over there?” He hesitated a moment and then asked, “How did you know?” She said, “I could just tell by the way you talked.” His reply was brief, flat, and monotone, “Just a couple of months ago.”
With a tear forming in her eye she said, “I lost my brother a year ago. He was killed in the delta.” Not knowing what to say, he repositioned himself on the bench. In his mind the war meant a little girl vanishing. In an instant of perfect clarity the entire war was captured in the image of the innocent little girl trying to outrace death. He pulled up the words, “I am sorry about your brother.” After a sip of her coffee she said, “That is why I protest the war, for my brother and the hundreds of other brothers.”
He nursed his coffee and they made small talk about the weather and the mall gathering. He looked at her, sometimes just out of the corner of his eye, sometimes straight on. She looked so free, so full of life and beauty. He was struck at how the wind blew hair. Her scent was like some type of flower. He thought for a moment, his brain landing on the flower, Lilac. When she smiled, he felt alive. With their coffee gone, Al felt awkward. He wanted to ask her if she lived in the D.C. area.
Knocking him for a loop she said, “I want to see you again. Just give me your phone number and I’ll call.” Fumbling for his pocket note pad, it fell on his shoe. Reaching for it he watched his hand shake. He jotted down his numbers and handed her the paper. “The first number is my office, and the other is Aunt Bee’s. I’m usually done at the office by six and back to Bee’s by six thirty.” “Aunt Bee,” she said, “Who is Aunt Bee?” “Sorry about that.” Al said, “She is the old lady that runs the boarding house. She is a fantastic cook and a nice lady.” Sarah said back, “She sounds like my grandmother. And I bet she wears dresses to the floor and her hair up.” Al could not stop his outburst of laughter saying, “You must have met her.”