Perfect Perspective (Weekly Writing Challenge)

Perfect Perspective (Weekly Writing Challenge)

 (C’mon folks, it’s Saturday afternoon.  If you haven’t looked at The Daily Post and their suggestion for the week, you’re kinda lagging behind.  Hop to!)

Let me just begin by saying that there are two sides to every story. This is my side, the right one. “ –Easy A

**********

“I can’t believe that jerk almost killed me.” 

a3500_einstein1_gCarlos tore off his ski mask angrily and stormed in the door.  His hair raged like his temper; clumps of brown follicles thrust this way and that in an unintentional homage to Einstein.  The rest of his body was not keen to rest either.  His tempest of frustration surged.  Carlos tore off his gloves and jogging shoes.  He paced back and forth in his living room as he pulled of his jogging pants and shirt.

Making his way for the shower, Carlos still couldn’t calm himself down.  He stepped into the hot water and felt the moisture stream down on him.  Normally he turned the hot water on and then tempered it with some cold for the ideal amount of heat.  Tonight, Carlos let the shower spray out stinging pellets of scorching water to fuel his fury.  His sore body yielded and relaxed under the showerhead.  The physical exhaustion was ebbing, but not Carlos’ indignation at the event.

Carlos had thought going for an evening run would be a nice source of relaxation.  He had a ski mask that he wanted to break in for the ski trip that Connie and he were taking for Christmas.  Also, it had been getting colder outside and the thought of not having dribbling snot and sweat freeze to his face held an appeal for him.  In his dark-shaded attire, Carlos had made his way around the city streets.

The first few miles had been the same as they always were.  It took Carlos a bit to get his legs warmed up and loose.  In another mile, his lungs had adjusted to the thirty degree chill.  The only problem with Carlos’ chosen route was the lack of sidewalks.  The residential streets where he lived had nice little paved strips for him to travel on.  Besides the occasional garbage can that waited patiently to be picked up by early morning sanitation workers or mailboxes that took up permanent residence at the edge of the curb, the route was obstacle-free.  However, further away from the houses and mowed lawns were the city streets.

Back when the area had first been established, jogging was probably the furthest thing from the city planners’ minds.  No one was buying running shoes or meandering about the town for exercise seventy years ago.  So it was that the sidewalks soon gave way to vehicle lanes.   Carlos loathed racing in the same lane as cars, but he hadn’t seen any viable alternatives.  He wanted his ten miles and there were only so many routes available to him.  He wasn’t about to jog the same block over and over just because some moron on his Bluetooth couldn’t yield to a pedestrian.  Regardless of his stubbornness and his determination, Carlos would have admitted that the whole thing made him nervous.  The man had long been worried about an incident just like the one that happened that night.

For the first hundred yards on the street, things had been fine.  Carlos hugged the edge of the road, trying to give the cars as much room as possible.  Some cars honked at him, others swerved into the middle lane at the last moment.  All these activities were rather normal and the intrepid runner was able to take it all in stride.  That was before the blue four-door.

In the last stretch of the street route, Carlos noticed a car coming up behind him.  The headlights cast an eerie glow over his shoulder.  Unlike the other double-lit signs of approach, these were unyielding.  As the circles of light 549787_3225555432071_1788332779_nbecame more distinct, Carlos’ fear became greater.  To his left was the inside lane of traffic which was heavily populated with more vehicles.  To his right, Carlos saw the concrete barrier that kept him from falling off the edge and plummeting down a hundred feet to the lake below.  The car continued to approach Carlos.  He knew his escaping unharmed was entirely on him.  He scurried up onto the foot-wide perch on the top of the barrier and tried to keep from falling either down the steep drop or back into the path of the car. 

Suddenly, the blue four-door noticed the pedestrian.  It honked, swerved to the left, and screeched its brakes all at the same time.  The vehicles in the middle lane also stomped on their brakes and narrowly missed the other cars when they darted across the double-yellow line and back again.  The blue four-door somehow missed colliding with any other cars.  A man threw the passenger door open and screamed to Carlos who was lowering himself from atop the concrete wall.  He ignored the curses and angry shouts when he realized that the car wasn’t going to stop and apologize.  Sure enough, the car door slammed and the blue four-door sped away.

Carlos turned off the shower and dried himself.  His anger had almost entirely dissipated, but he still couldn’t understand why the event had happened. 

Cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians.  Yeah I was a little hard to see, but that’s the social contract people sign when they get behind the wheel.  Why couldn’t they stop gabbing at each other and focus on, I dunno, the road?  There was a time when joggers weren’t required to wear headlamps and reflective gear.  What happened to letting people not die?  There are too many distractions and too many displays in cars these days.  I’m sorry, but once you start putting DVD players in vehicles, you’re just asking for trouble.

Putting on a t-shirt and his most beaten up pair of jeans, Carlos decided to relax on the couch.  He knew he wouldn’t have the television to himself for long, so he pulled out The Three Stooges.  His wife never understood the comedic brilliance that they were performing.  Carlos got it though, and he was in the mood for some laughter.

Sure enough, as the credits started to roll, the sound of Connie’s car was heard as she pulled into the garage.  The car door slammed.  The door to the garage slammed.  Finally, Connie walked through the living room and threw her bags on the counter with a mighty thud.

“Unbelievable!”

“Honey?  Connie?  Are you okay?”

“You would not guess what happened to me.  Morons, Carlos.  We’re living in a world of morons!”

“Tell me about it.  I mean, just an hour ago…”

“I’m sorry dear”, she interrupted.  “Do you mind if I go first?  I want to… I mean… I’m so angry!”

Carlos nodded without saying a word.  He had pacified himself and his wife was clearly still incensed at her day.  He turned off the television, waved her over, and let his wife collapse onto him.  Connie sighed, slumped onto the soft cushions, and let her head rest lazily on Carlos’ shoulder. 

“It’s good to be home”, Connie said with an exhausted tone.  The relieved attitude didn’t last long.

“I still don’t see how anyone could be so stupid!”  Connie leapt to her feet and started pacing in front of the television.  Nothing that flickered across the screen could dare be as animated as the enraged woman was and Carlos gave her his utmost attention.

“You remember how Stan and I had to make this presentation downtown tonight, right?  That’s where I was for the last few hours?”

Carlos only nodded, knowing the questions that would be thrown out were only rhetorical.

“Well the whole thing went great.  I expect them to offer us a contract in the next few days.  Stan and I are happy little coworkers.  We head for his car since I left mine parked at the office.  We’ve talked about his hybrid before.  I wanted to know how it handled.  I mean, how much have I spent on gas in the last six months?

“Anyway, Stan offers to let me drive his car.  He takes the passenger side, I slide behind the wheel, and we make our way back to the office.  Traffic was awful.  There was some accident by the first intersection.  It blocked things up for I don’t know how long.  Then… then came the real kicker.

“I think everything’s going to be fine.  I figure we’re through the worst of it.  But no.  I’m driving along the city road and the most incredibly asinine person gets in my way.”

Carlos started to feel a tingling down the back of his neck.  He didn’t understand what it meant at that precise moment, but he soon would.

“Someone, some complete buffoon who’s too stupid to run on a track like a smart person, decides that the street is the perfect place to get his jollies.”

After that, Carlos could only stare on in horror.

“I mean, he wasn’t even smart about it!  Was he wearing white?  No!  Was he running in the opposite direction of the cars like he’s supposed to?  Of course not.  And why would he be out jogging at night time?  Is he suicidal?  Do joggers have some sort of death wish to offset their need to be healthy?  I mean, c’mon!”

“Uh, Connie?”

“So there I am.  I’m driving a car that I’m still trying to figure out, and there’s this jogger.  In the road!  Not off to the side, not on some sidewalk.  He’s in the flippin’ road!  Doesn’t he know that there’s a massive cliff on the other side?  Of all the asinine behaviors…  And he’s wearing all black!  Who wears all black anymore?  Emo-running is the hip new thing now?  I just, I can’t even believe it.  I need to take a shower and calm down.” 

Connie sighed and stopped pacing.  She looked at her husband, took a deep breath, and kissed him. 

“I’m glad I’m home.  Would you be a darling and cook dinner while I scrub this atrocious night off of me?  Thanks.”

“Uh, honey?  What kind of a car does Stan drive?”

“I told you”, she said as she made her way down the hallway.  “It’s a hybrid.”

“What kind?”  Carlos could feel himself twitch with fear as he asked the dreaded question.

13203533121548009075ski-mask-psd7675-md“I don’t know, Carlos.  It’s a hybrid.  His is blue.  It’s a four-door.  What do you want me to tell you?  And why is that new ski mask I bought you on the floor?  What have you been up to?”

Repetitious Excuses

Repetitious Excuses

It was the end of a VERY long day.” –Groundhog’s Day

**********

“I must have misheard you”, Patty said as she put her purse down on the kitchen counter.  “Say that again.”

“I thought I could go to Stephen’s gradation next time”, Lawrence answered.

“Next time.  Next time?  Lawrence, that doesn’t make any sense.  How could you miss your son’s graduation?  Your parents are still back at the high school looking for you!”

“Now, you claim that I skipped it.  That I’ll never know what it was like.  But that’s because you don’t know the whole story.”

Patty’s keys joined the purse as they skittered and slid across the marble surface.  Her hands were now free to cross in front of her white formal silk blouse.  As Lawrence looked up past her pearl necklace and her chin that was lightly dabbed in makeup, he was met with a distinct frown and severe eyes.  Glancing even further upward, he could see veins coming out of his wife’s head that were hidden to the casual observer behind her black bangs.  Patty was furious.

“You have five minutes.”

“Okay”, Lawrence said as he felt his feet moving back and forth underneath him.  He’d been wondering the whole time how he was going to explain what had happened.  He still didn’t fully grasp what he had gone through.  Regardless, it was time to try and figure it out.  A simple, “I’ll tell you later”, wouldn’t work today.

“I didn’t miss his graduation because I’ve already been to it.  I’ve been to it dozens of times; maybe even a hundred.  The tight shoes, the tie, your mom’s thick perfume attacking me in packed together folding chairs.  I couldn’t take it again.  I love our son, but once or twice is enough.”

Patty’s thin eyebrows voiced her disbelief.  “Exactly how many graduations do you think your son gets?  What is this nonsense you’re spewing out?”

“I get it.  I see where you’re confused.”  Lawrence studied his wife’s face again and corrected himself.   “Upset; I can understand why you’re upset.  And yes, Daniel only graduated high school once.  I’ve seen it over and over.  I’ve relived the event more times than I can keep track of.”

“How; try tackling that part of your story.  How?”

“I don’t know.  Somehow it’s all related to my toothbrush.  Every time that I brush my teeth, I get taken back to the bathroom this morning.  I work a full day, I survive traffic, I eat dinner, I go to the graduation, I come home, and I brush my teeth.  Boom.  I wake up to find myself in bed and then it’s morning.  Again.  This morning.  The same morning over and over.”

“Because you brushed your teeth?”

Lawrence heard the incredulity in Patty’s voice and started talking faster in hopes of beating her wrath to the punch.  “I know, it sounds crazy.  The only theory that I can come up with is that I was in some sort of dream.  Maybe there’s a vein near my teeth that controls my internal clock or my perceptions and it was inflamed just enough to be overly sensitive.  You know how the dentist always says she has to numb all these areas of my mouth simply to work on one tooth.”

“Your tooth is responsible for your brain time traveling back repeatedly to this day?”

Lawrence nodded excitedly.  He thought about a follow up statement, but knew that it couldn’t possibly help matters.

“Lawrence Edward Tonlin.  How stupid do you think I am?”

“Now don’t be like that.”

“Time traveling teeth?”

“Honey…”

“So, what, your toothpaste raises your I.Q.?  Einstein talks to you while you floss?  What?”

“Do you really think I’d make up something this ridiculous?”

“Yes”, Patty replied without pausing.

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know”, she answered.  “Why would you tell the kids that Santa got stuck in the chimney and that he could never come back here due to the lawsuit between his people and the construction company that built our house?”

Lawrence paused to laugh.  “Oh c’mon, that was genius.  We would have never had to Christmas shop ever again.”  Seeing his wife turn to the refrigerator for a drink, Lawrence changed his laugh into a cough, and then into a clearing of his throat.

“What did you do when you were supposedly too busy to spend time with your only son?”

“It really depended on the day”, Lawrence said as a flood of memories rushed around his head.  “There was the time I drove out to the lake and spent all day fishing and barbecuing.  I ran onto an airplane without a ticket.  I went bungee jumping out by the-“

“Wait, what?”

“Oh don’t be so shocked.  You know I’ve always wanted to try bungee jumping.”

“Not that.  Before that.  A plane?”

“Sure.  I ran onto a plan without a boarding pass.  Man, that day was fun.  Those ticket agents aren’t nearly as fast to grab their little walkie talkies as you would think.  The male flight attendant was trying to chase me down the tunnel thing.  Heh.  I had a head start and I didn’t have any luggage to slow me down.  They tried to shut the plane door.  Your old husband though, he’s pretty quick.  Still, I pitied the people that had to wait until the sky marshals arrived.”

“Sky marshals, Lawrence?”

“Yeah.  I tried to walk myself off after they closed the cabin door.  The officials wouldn’t let me.  They thought I was some sort of security threat and they wanted to search the entire plane even though I’d only been on the front part.  Can you believe it?  I felt kind of bad about that.”

Lawrence brightened up.  A twinkle in his look showed his mischievous side.  “Now, it never happened.  Those people made their plane.  Today’s a different version of today than that today was.  Today I never even went to the airport.  That today though; man.  Those sky marshals are rough.  And yet, I gotta say their holding cells are surprisingly comfortable.  They shouldn’t have loaned me a toothbrush, those silly guys.”

“You’re… you’re not making this up, are you?”  Patty had since turned around with a cup in her hand.  She had intended to make herself some tea to soothe her nerves, but her husband’s story had distracted her.  The dry tea bag flopped around in the porcelain cup, its tag bobbing along merrily with no water to weigh it down.

“Could I really make something like this up?”

“I don’t know.  You’re weird, but this is psychotic-break kind of weird.”

“Patty, I’m fine.”

“So you did go to Daniel’s graduation?”

“Many times.”

“What was his signature move at the podium?”

Lawrence rolled his eyes.  “He yells out, ‘Good Night, Vietnam.’  Darn kid.”

“Any one of your father-friends from the baseball team could have called you and told you that.”

“But they didn’t.”

Patty’s mood and posture had softened.  She was inquisitive now.  “What did we do?”

“Pardon?”

“What?  You’re telling me that of all those times that you supposedly existed in a repetitive cycle that you didn’t spend any of those with your wife?”

“I tried, but most times you were dead-set on going to Daniel’s graduation.”

“And other times?”

“It depended how I phrased it.  If I explained it just right, I could get you to stay home with me.  We’d go to the bedroom, have a little fun, and watch a movie.”

“Really?  That’s it?”

“Well, a few times I took you out to a fancy dinner.  But that gets old for a fellow rather quickly.”

“It doesn’t get old for his wife”, Patty declared with her tone as she poked her finger into Lawrence’s chest.

“Point taken”, Lawrence said as he raised his arms in surrender.  Patty snuck into his arms and put her forehead against his chin.

“So what did you do tonight?”

“Say again?”

“Tonight.  This time”, Patty said as she put down her cup and looked at the clock on the wall.  “You can do anything you want.  You partake in whatever fancy strikes you.  What’d you do this time?”

“Watched Die Hard.”

“What?”

“Y’know, Die Hard.”

“That’s what you did?”

“It’s a really great movie!  It’s not like I have time to read A Tale of Two Cities or anything.  A two hour movie sounded great to me.”

“Ugggh”, Patty walked away in disgust.  She still didn’t know whether to believe her husband, but she knew without a doubt that her husband was behaving like his normal self.

“Patty, c’mon”, Lawrence called after her from the kitchen.  “It’s Die Hard!”

Slowing Down

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Slowing Down

I have seen slower people than I am–and more deliberate…and even quieter, and more listless, and lazier people than I am. But they were dead.” –Mark Twain

Geoff looked out the window at the cars zooming by and felt an immense sense of bitterness.  That used to be him.  He used to pass by every person, every car on the street.  No one could match him for speed.  He could do things that no other man could possibly consider.  Once, in what now seemed like an eternity ago, Geoff was the fastest man on the planet.

In the beginning there was the terrifying accident.  Geoff had been making some adjustments on a revolutionary particle accelerator.  It had been theorized that they could simulate microscopic explosions by throwing minute matter at each other at terrific speeds.  However, for the power demands that were required, they had been forced to implement a new kind of system.  The generator wasn’t as stable as the staff would have liked, but they had run low on options, time, and funding.  That was where Geoff came in.  If anyone was going to be able to jury-rig their creation into working better, it was him.

The scientists had taken steps to make the area as safe as possible, including installing blast doors that would shut down the moment the regulators felt compromised.  That precaution ended up trapping Geoff.

He had been replacing the paneling on the generator when a power surge forced the regulators offline.  As the lights blinked back on, the blast doors took the incident as a cue and slammed shut.  The staff in the operations room had been so busy focusing on getting the massive doors open for Geoff that they didn’t notice what was happening inside the room until it was too late.

The resultant effect of the surge on the generator itself was that the machine translated the power as a reset.  It clicked and whirred to life, revving up its internal workings without any keystrokes.  Geoff stopped banging on the doors and shouting when he heard that familiar and eerie thrumming coming from behind him.

In the control room, Geoff’s coworkers managed to open the doors in time to see the machine light up with energy.  They froze in terror.  Geoff pointed to the generator and yelled as he fought the panic away.  Barry, Geoff’s longtime lab partner, saw the gesture and rushed to the shutdown button.  Unfortunately, in his hurry to get to the computer he slipped on the floor and banged his head on the shelf.  As the chaos was ensuing, the accelerator came to life.

Another man went for the emergency stop button; however several moments had already lapsed.  The accelerator was at full power and Geoff was caught in a burst of energy and radiation.  He collapsed from the assault just as the button was pushed and the accelerator ceased.

Miraculously, Geoff had been unharmed.  However, he wasn’t the same.  He was kept under close observation for several days.  By the end of the week, Geoff was discovering some surprising abilities that he kept to himself.  There was the clipboard and pen that he had caught when the doctor bumped them off a shelf with his elbow.  A fly that Geoff had meant to brush from his nose had been swatted into the wall across the room and splattered on the wall from the impact.  Also, two or three days into his visit, Geoff noticed that the second hand on the clock seemed to stand still.  In time, he found it that it was him that was moving faster while time went on as it always had.

The first couple of days had been frightening.  Geoff was afraid to move.  A brisk jog to get to the oven in time had turned into him speeding towards the oven and crashing.  His typing on a computer at home had wrecked the device for good.  And just like in the hospital room, he spent what seemed like hours with his senses sped up.  Those were the worst parts.  He wondered each time how long it would take for the world to resume its normal pace.  Was he always going to be left out of synch with everyone else?

Two things had calmed Geoff down considerably.  The first was that his body started to adjust to the changes it had gone through.  With focus and practice, he was able to control when his body sped up and when he operated like a normal person.  His science background and some trial and error afforded him the help he needed.  When he had gone for his first super-speed jog, he found out that there were side effects.  He stopped when a searing pain took over his skin and his clothes started to smell smoky.  Returning to normal speed, he found that the air friction from the human body moving at such a velocity gave him burns and his clothes caught on fire.  After a few all-nighters in his small lab at home, Geoff developed a suit that covered him from head to toe and constantly cooled off the surface temperature of his body.  Within a few weeks, he had managed to rig the controls so that they would shut on and off automatically depending on how fast he was moving.  The soles of the suit were another matter.  Geoff tried various combinations of Teflon, rubber, and asbestos, but he always ended up with a melted mess on his feet when he surpassed their limits.  In the end, it was the government who provided him with an experimental material they had been testing.  As thanks for his public service in rescuing people, they kept him supplied with small amounts of the materials.

The second thing that had helped Geoff fit into his new life was Laura.  Laura was a doctor in the hospital who had a long case history of helping burn victims and those caught in industrial accidents.  She was not only used to keeping busy and moving quickly, she also knew how to get a person up and running again.  Not surprisingly, she was exactly what Geoff had needed.

Geoff’s last checkup appointment had been three months after his accident.  He knew that time wasn’t on his side.  He had needed to move fast.  After this appointment, he wouldn’t have an excuse to drop in on the lovely doctor anymore.  The laughs, the soft gestures; Geoff couldn’t imagine doing without.  She had wished him well and headed for the door.  Without thinking, Geoff sped up and rushed to partially block the door.  His gust of speed caught the objects in the room and tossed them about.  Laura’s hair had also been swept up and now it lay disheveled on her head.  She was so stunning like that, Geoff hadn’t been able to resist.  He asked if he could be assigned a different doctor for his one-year appointment so that he might take the current one out for dinner.  After that, Geoff was never examined by Laura again.  Well, at least not professionally.

That had been five years ago.  For five years Geoff had been doing his best to use his gift.  There were times when he ran around purely for fun.  He liked watching the world whoosh by in a long, blurred line of colors.  He never used his car except when he was riding around with Laura.  Even then, he got restless at not being able to leave the world behind.  Being with his wife was the only part that made car rides enjoyable.

He and Laura agreed that he needed to help others.  Geoff had set several records for sandbagging rivers.  Floods, fires, earthquakes; all were cause for Geoff to run out and grab rescue victims.  Once he learned about grids and GPS, he became a one-man search and rescue team.  Lost hikers and skiers sang his praise and marveled as the snow melted under his feet.  Geoff only wished that he could do more.  He was superfast, but he was only as strong as he had been before the accident.  He couldn’t lift more than two people at a time.  The trouble was that in order to go fast enough that their weight wouldn’t burden him, he would have to speed up to the degree that the friction burns might set in.  It was a delicate balance that Geoff worked hard to master.  Then, on that day three months ago, Geoff’s fun had slowed to a halt.

For a few weeks he had felt like he was slowing down, but he assumed his brain was just playing tricks on him.  The world still moved at a blur.  He was still as fast as he had ever been.  Wasn’t he?

The questioned gnawed at him.  Then, on that Wednesday morning, he had tried to outrun a car that was barreling towards a crosswalk.  The woman behind the SUV screamed that her brakes were out.  Most people ran from the intersection, but an older man couldn’t go any faster.

Geoff set out to do what he did best.  He didn’t have his suit, but he still poured on the speed.  He ran as fast as he could.  He pushed himself to the limit.  And as he moved to pull the man out of the way, he got him clear.  Geoff himself hadn’t escaped so cleanly.

The woman driving the SUV managed to run into fences on the side of the road to slow her vehicle to a stop, but not before running over Geoff’s foot.  Many of the bones in Geoff’s leg shattered and snapped.  Along with his foot, Geoff’s gift seemed wrecked as well.  He hadn’t been able to outrun a simple car.

That had been the day that Geoff had given up on being a speedster.  He knew that whatever energy had changed his body had almost worn off.  He might have some speed in him, but not enough to be reliable.  He still helped people where he could, but now his joyous jaunts of jogging turned into painting kitchen walls or carrying a couch to the truck.  Geoff had a normal job in a lab.  Geoff was in shape.  Geoff took long walks.  Geoff’s life was, in all ways, average.  It drove him crazy.

Geoff once again felt out of synch with the world, but this time it was his turn to watch everyone speed by.  His mind returned from his happier days and refocused on the window outside.  The vehicles continued to whiz by, but a new sight caught Geoff’s attention.  On the wood ledge outside, a small slug inched its way along in search of shade.  Geoff took note of the effort that the slug put forth and how slowly it moved.  Every small increment of advancement came only from gradual, almost painfully slow deliberate moves.  Geoff shook his head and realized he identified more with this disgusting creature than he did with the motorists hurrying by.

Lost in his sulking, Geoff didn’t notice his wife as she walked up behind him.  She took her long arms and wrapped them around his neck.  She rested her head gently on his shoulder as reached behind and scratched her on the small of her back.

“Having a rough morning, are we?”

“Yeah”, Geoff replied.

“Did you know that there is an African tribe named the Maabans?  They live in an extremely quiet place.  I mean, it’s gotta be like the anti-New York.  Do you know what these guys are known for?”

“Their ability to milk slugs?”

“What?  No.  Milking slugs?”

“Bad joke.  So these Macaws?”

“Mabaans.  Culture, dear.  They have pretty much the best hearing around.  They can hear someone whisper from across a baseball field.  That’s a little science fact to impress your lab friends.”

“I’m sorry Laura, but is there a point to this?  It isn’t really helping.”

“You have a lot of different voices, were you aware of that?  When you’re excited, your voice takes on this almost high-pitch tone of glee.  It’s kind of adorable.  When you want attention, you drop about two octaves.  But there is one tone, one tone that you only ever use in one situation.  And the funny thing is, I’ve only ever heard you say two phrases with that tone.  It makes those two sentences that much more meaningful.”

Geoff turned around; a look of confusion present.  “What are you saying, exactly?  What tone?  Do I talk weird?”

“I suppose you could say that, yeah.  But the thing is; you get really quiet.  You almost whisper, ‘It’s okay.’  There’s this underlying feeling of confidence and calmness in your voice.  From anybody else, it’d be patronizing.  Not when you do it.  You simply, almost inaudibly say, ‘It’s okay’.  And the way you say it makes me believe you entirely.”

“You think I learned that phrase from Africans?”

“No.  But I can always hear you when you use that tone.  The world can be full of millions of distractions, but from across a crowded room, I can hear you when you use that voice.  My ears know it and love it.”

Geoff paused.  A look of consideration was evident as he asked, “What’s the other phrase?”

“’I’m not going anywhere.’  It’s not quite as powerful as the shorter phrase.  You don’t say, ‘I’m not going anywhere’ nearly as much.  They’re both pretty great though.”

“Well, I stole ‘It’s okay’ from Commissioner Gordon in Batman Begins.  So there’s that.”

“I know”, Laura said as she interlaced her fingers in Geoff’s.  “I like the way you say it, though.”

“Well thank you, but I’m still upset.  I mean, you don’t know what it’s like.  Have you ever run on water?  It’s incredible.  You’re traveling at this speed, the wind blowing against you as you go faster and faster.  Then you notice that you’re a reflection.  You look down as you soar over this large lake.  It’s you, your mirror image just underneath you, and nothing else but blue sky and blue water.  You aren’t just walking on water, you’re running on it.  The water isn’t a barrier, it’s a route.  No one else can travel like that.  No one knows how it feels.  Part of you is showing off for yourself, but another part of it feels so natural.  It all clicks.”

“Geoff?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.  It’s okay.”

Geoff smiled.  “You’re not sick of me?  You’re okay that I’m around the house more than two hours a day?”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong”, Laura joked.  “It’s been an odd experience.  I think I’m getting used to it though.”

“You sure about that?  I mean, I could become a workaholic.  Maybe I should hang around the lab fourteen hours a day.”

“Nah”, she replied.  “I like you just the way you are.”

“It’s okay?”

Laura smiled back and ruffled his hair.  “It’s okay.”

Parallel Loves

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Parallel Loves

“The holes in our soul may never heal, but we would not have souls in the first place if we did not love.” –Geoff Johns

Paul looked at the park and couldn’t believe how similar things were.  There were differences, to be sure, but there were also more things that he recognized than he would have thought possible.  The swing sets were different and the logos on the baseball field’s walls were not what he thought they should be.  Still, their tree was exactly as he had left it back home.  The same branch jutted out at the same quirky angle with the strength to hold two people securely.  If there were this many similarities visible already, then surely there would be a Lynn who was like the one he had lost back home.

Rain slowly started to fall from the sky.  It wasn’t an oppressive, torrential rain; more of a light sprinkling.  Paul ignored the few drops that spattered about his head and he walked to where he thought there was a phone booth.  He couldn’t remember the last time that he had used a payphone, but now it seemed to hold the answers that he was looking for.  Sure enough, right by the fire hydrant that was red and should have been white, Paul found the phone and its directory.

With a slow precision that betrayed a degree of hesitance, Paul let the pages turn quietly in his hands.  The J’s passed by, then the L’s.  He soon came to the M’s.  He turned the pages one by one, hoping that the entry he was looking for would be there.  Finally, he found the entry right where it should be.  Paul and Lynn Monroe resided at an address not more than a mile away.

As he walked to the home, the memory of house shopping came into his brain.  Lynn had been the excited one while Paul just wanted to find a darn house.  He would be happy in any home, so long as Lynn liked it.  He would content himself with whatever choice she made, but Lynn had always been particular.  “Don’t you want to find the perfect home for us to live a life in?”  That was the mantra which she kept repeating to Paul.  Each and every time, Paul would respond, “I already found the perfect wife; the home is only a detail.”  She liked that response, but her determination was never softened by it.

In the end, she had found two houses that she liked.  In  Paul’s version, Lynn had settled for the one with the bigger fireplace because she had wanted to spend winters together, huddled around reading stories to each other and one day their kids.  Apparently this world’s Lynn had opted for the home that was closer to the park so that they could go for walks and take their kids out to fly kites and chase each other in circles.  If they were going to live near a park, Paul knew that it had to be this park.

There were other parks in the city, many of them nicer and most all of them were bigger.  However this park had their tree.  The big tree with the odd tree branch had been a touchstone for the couple.  It was on their first date that they had gone for a walk and ended up in that park.  It had been that tree branch that he watched her ascend with childlike enthusiasm.  They both had made comments about wanting to climb the tree, but Lynn in her skirt and blouse had made note of the impracticality of her scrambling up.  Somehow Paul knew that she really wanted to climb the tree, but didn’t feel like she should.  He cajoled and harangued her until she had caved.  He had helped her up, putting his hands underneath her foot and giving her a boost.  Then he had jumped for the branch and pulled himself up beside her.  That became their tree.

They didn’t go by the tree on every date, but it was certainly a place of interest for them.  If nothing else, the little hollow spot where the branch met the trunk would always be remembered fondly for the way it had held her engagement ring.  Paul had been a bit nervous not only because he wasn’t absolutely positive that Lynn would say yes, but also because he was afraid some kid or a squirrel would come across the ring and carry it away.  Yet, after the tradition of helping Lynn up had been completed, he brushed the leaves and twigs aside and the ring was still there.   Paul hadn’t been able to kneel on the narrow tree branch, but he managed to ask the question without tripping over his words.  Lynn had cried and lunged to hug him, which had almost sent the two of them falling out of the tree.  If the tree hadn’t been in that park, Paul would have seen it as a sign to go home.  Instead, he was encouraged.  Seeing that landmark there in all its perfection helped Paul to believe that it was all going to work out.

 Suddenly a thought entered into Paul’s mind.  He hated to make a detour, but he knew that it was the wisest course to take.  Walking two miles out of the way, Paul was relieved to find that the drugstore was right where it should have been.  Commerce was not one to be swayed by such trivial things as parallel earths.  He walked in and found a pair of cheap binoculars.  The cashier gave him an odd look when he tried to pay with cash.  Rather than explain that his payment was indeed valid, he offered his credit card which the man with the apron took and swiped.  Paul left as rapidly as he could, leaving his receipt and plastic bag behind.

Paul headed back towards his, or rather “their” home.  He felt like a creep holding a pair of binoculars in his hand as he came closer to the residence.  He had to keep telling himself that spying on Paul & Lynn was like looking in the mirror.  It wasn’t perverted, it was just curiosity.  The Lynn he knew always appreciated how intently he had looked at her.  Over the years, he had found more and more things on her face to be fascinated with.  Before she got sick, Paul had known there was something wrong.  Her hair had gotten thinner and her complexion had gone paler.  Paul guessed at the illness before Lynn had even gone to the doctor.

Shaking himself from his grief-filled past, Paul found himself standing in front of the home that the two of them had almost bought.  There was that pink flamingo that Lynn thought was so wonderfully gaudy planted in the front yard.  Even from his safe distance away, Paul recognized the couch that sat happily in the living room with its picture window.

Paul found a tree stump to sit on behind a group of bushes and sat down.  He put the binoculars to his face, feeling like he stood out more than he liked.  The park was empty, and his only goal was to get a quick look at this version of the two of them, so he put his thumb to the focus wheel.  That was when she appeared.

Walking into the living room, a bowl of popcorn in her hand, Lynn came into view.  There was no sign of sickness about her.  Paul felt himself gasp when he saw how young she looked.  He had forgotten how youthful she had once been.  Her complexion was tan like it used to be each summer when they would spend every weekend hiking.  Her hair was its full self, no bare or bald patches like he remembered.  Paul looked at this version of Lynn and felt an enormous lump develop in his throat.

She behaved much like he remembered.  She still sat cross legged on the couch, insisting that her bare feet were happier on a cushion than on the floor.  She still shoveled massive amounts of popcorn into her face in a comical display of messiness.  And she still called Sir Sheds-Too-Much to her and placed him on the back of the couch.  Paul put down the binoculars to wipe his eyes.  When he brought them back up, he got the first good look at himself, or rather at this version of himself.

Paul walked into the room carrying a stack of DVDs.  Paul didn’t have to read lips to realize that they were having their typical discussion.  Sometimes it took half an hour for the two to decide what they were in the mood for.  The whole ordeal seemed silly for the number of times that one of them dozed off during the movie, but it was simply how they worked.

This Paul clearly had fewer problems on his plate.  He looked healthier and was only starting to develop the first few wrinkles that the onlooker-Paul had developed years ago.  There were no gray hairs in his temples.  His laugh, the absence of slumped shoulders; the Paul that lived here was a man with no apparent worries.

Paul felt himself glaring through the binoculars.  He wanted to hate this world’s Paul.  The happy-go-lucky Paul didn’t have to suffer through what Paul had.  This younger looking Paul hadn’t spent months living in hospital rooms and years watching his wife deteriorate.  This Paul who had a view of the park didn’t have to call up Lynn’s sister and ask her to pick out his wife’s coffin because he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.  This Paul was living out the happiness that should be his.

Without even realizing it, Paul was standing up and walking towards the house.  His eyes never left the living room and the two people inside.  He wanted to scream to this other Paul that he wasn’t the one who should be happy.  Paul had already suffered.  Why should that Paul get everything when he had nothing?

Out of nowhere, it happened.  There had been no leading up to it, no grand gesture.  The two had simply smiled at each other, put the popcorn aside and sat close to one another.  The Paul in the house had leaned in, put his hand on Lynn’s thigh, and happily kissed her.  That brought Paul back to his senses and he stopped in his tracks.  He remembered why he had come here and he dropped the binoculars.

As he fished for the remote control, Paul gave the blissful couple one last look.  He captured the moment in his memory and turned away.  He had stopped himself from banging on the door and telling Paul just how lucky he was.  The truth was, Paul could see it on the man’s face.  This version of himself, this man that hadn’t tried to fight his wife’s illness and lost; he knew what he had.  Paul could tell by the way they held each other and they looked at the other that they knew how blessed they really were.

The rain had developed into a full-on downpour.  Paul fumbled with the wet remote in his hand and walked back to the wide open field in the park.  All he had wanted was to see that some version of him was happy.  He wanted to know that some parallel version of Paul and Lynn had gotten the cheery life that he had been denied.  He pressed a button which activated the portal back to his earth.  Paul went home knowing that for all the agony and pain he had gone through, there was another version of himself where his dreams had come true.  Witnessing that, finding out that things worked out even if it wasn’t for him, was enough for Paul.

The Send Off

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Send Off

Glancing towards the two bundles by the door, Maggie felt a wave of sadness fight for her attention.  She knew only too well what it would mean when the entryway would be clear of the rucksack and the smaller bag.  Her eyes started to moisten.  She stopped, stood a little taller, and took a deep breath.  Her determination renewed, she walked back to the living room.

There sat Shamus, his eyes looking out over the green expanse that was normally a calming sight.  He turned his attention to his wife and gave a weary smile of appreciation and affection.  Maggie had aged a bit with the birthing of four children.  The daily chores of cooking, cleaning, and chasing around the excitable youngsters had given her little lines in her eyes and more than a few white hairs that gathered into a braided ponytail.  To Shamus though, she was a stunning figure.  When he had met her in Belfast, she had been a teenager; her spirit and dancing feet as lively as her green eyes and red hair.  He even appreciated that she was a good two inches taller than her.  The fire still remained in her eyes.  He had seen it when Patrick had gotten lost for half a day and when he and the children had surprised her with a special birthday meal last year.  There was no lack of affection for his wife.

Maggie felt the same way.  She wished she was a few pounds lighter.  She thought it odd that she should outweigh her husband by a good thirty pounds, but there were a seemingly infinite number of things that took greater precedence.  Looking at Shamus, his shoulders still ready to bear the upcoming challenge, she realized just how much she was going to miss him.  He was always so calm.  When the two of them met she spent half the night wondering if he was having a good time.  Here was this man, yes he was a little on the short side, but he had this strength about him.  His arms had been strengthened through countless hours working in the fields.  It was Maggie’s experience that men who looked like him were brusque and only too happy to talk about themselves.  Shamus was different.  He had spent their first evening together asking questions about her; he took in every new piece of information.  His calm demeanor had caused a bit of concern on her part.  She had wondered if he was having a good time.  That worry had been laid to rest when they started dancing.  His face betrayed his stoic nature.  He hadn’t shown it, but internally he had been having the time of his life.

Shamus’ internal processing of thoughts and emotion were working in high gear.  Maggie was rather sure by the way he was sitting and the quiet way he stood as she walked closer that he was trying to find another solution to not only their problem, but the country’s.  As she slowly stepped into his arms and the two hugged in front of the window, they leaned their heads’ against the others’ and looked out at the world. 

There was nothing “great” about the famine except for the catastrophic effect it had had on everyone.  Maggie’s father, a rich man, had not been wealthy enough to fight off the fever that had killed him.  Their crops had survived the disease better than most, but that still left them with only a third of their crop to work.  They had managed to grow enough food to feed themselves and many of their neighbors.  The family was thankful for that because it meant that they could avoid the groups in the city.  Maggie hadn’t quite subscribed to his explanation, but Shamus had felt that large crowds of sick people in condensed areas would do them in faster than hunger would.  Still, they both knew that no one was safe in this time of tragedy.  Her father’s death had certainly shown them that.

They had tried their best to come up with a solution.  Their most desperate plan was the one that seemed to hold the greatest hope for them.  Shamus had a distant cousin working on the docks of Philadelphia and he had promised he could find work for him.  The pay wasn’t enough to support a family, but it was a start.  Maggie would stay and help her mother who hadn’t been the same since the death of Maggie’s father.  This would give her time to try and sell what was left of their farm and keep the children out of too much mischief.  Shamus would find a job, start saving, and work on finding them a place to live.  They agreed it was their best opportunity.  It also meant spending years apart.

Maggie watched the sun setting over the field and wondered how her husband could stand to leave this place that they loved so much.  She couldn’t imagine living anywhere was, but that was what they were planning to do.  She wondered if there would be vast stretches of green there.  She hoped there would be.  To her, life without grass growing a rustling in the wind and leaving its hue on her clothes and feet was a dreary existence.  She craved the outdoors.  How was she to survive in the city?  Then again, if she stayed where she was her family might not survive at all.  The family was healthy enough for the time being, but her children were still young.  Her protective side was much stronger than her loyalty to her homeland.

ImageThe last rays of sun were dimming to black as Maggie unconsciously started singing a tune she had heard.  It had made its way over from England, one of the few good things to come from that country as far as Maggie and Shamus were concerned.  She had taken an instant liking to Amazing Grace and had been singing it quite often.  She quietly sang her hymn, praying that the small children in the next two rooms would stay asleep. 

As she finished, she felt Shamus hug her tighter.

“Sing that song for me, will you?”  He looked to Maggie with a pleading that was unspoken, but clear as day on his face.

“Everyday”, she softly replied.

***

(If you’ve never heard the Celtic Woman perform, Send Me a Song, I suggest you check it out.  I think it makes a better song than a video, but decide for yourself.  Regardless, this story owes a pretty large debt to it.  Also, thanks to PDPhoto.org for the picture.)

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