For That, I Was Glad

Balloons have no business on the ground. It’s quite obvious why, and I shouldn’t have had to explain it to anyone, much less my nearest and dearest. But then, one has to explain everything these days, doesn’t one?

I had just lost a tooth. One I had been particularly fond of as it made chewing so much easier. It was a chilly spring afternoon, and I was at the college graduation party for my niece, Marley-May. A child saddled with such a legal title deserved my compassion, as well as monetary encouragement, so I generously supported my favorite niece through five years of college. It took her a year and a half to change her major six times. But once she settled on Art Therapy with a minor in Anxious Languages taught by a guy named Phil-something, she plowed right through.

Using every ounce of her hard-earned sensibility, Marley-May was dressed for the weather that morning in a skin tight, sleeveless dress and high heels. The spring thunderstorm held off until the last of the graduates made it across the stage. Then it swooped in for revenge.

I and sundry family, faculty, and community members scattered to our cars and made it to graduation ceremonies throughout town, gripping steering wheels and squinting into failing light.

My sister, Marley-May’s mom, Geraldine, had decorated the garage with streamers, balloons, and hung a huge, stenciled swag: CONGRADULATIONS, NOW GET A JOB!  

Piled high with sandwiches, snacks, cakes, and drinks of all kinds, a standard plastic table dominated the oil stained, cement floor. An array of nails and screws piled up in old tin cans lining the shelving was a sight to behold. I had no idea that Geraldine’s husband, Sherman, was into recycling. I admired his organizational skills almost as much as I admired Geraldine’s dam-the-torpedoes approach to life’s challenges. Her husband’s projects among them.

Then, I took a bite of a caramel candy and promptly broke my tooth. But I couldn’t tell her that. So, I wrapped the piece in a matching “Congratulations, Now Get A Job” napkin and grinned through my discomfort.

“Having a good time?”

I glanced at my sister and grimaced. “Course. I love these get-togethers.”

She grimaced back. “Liar.”

“You know me too well.”

“I know that you made this day possible. Marley’s got a lead on a job, and her future looks bright. Thanks to you.”

I lifted my gaze beyond Geraldine’s left shoulder and watched my happy niece swigging back a soda with a half-eaten sandwich in the other hand. She chattered excitedly in a gathering of two other gals and a couple of interested, though not overly enthusiastic, young men. Did she have any idea how harsh the world would be? How dreams would be dashed? Aspirations squashed? The mighty burden of reality overload?

I shook my head. Of course not. She wouldn’t be smiling right now if she knew. Like a young bride going on her honeymoon, there’s no warning in the world to prepare a person for real sacrifice. That few care to notice. Even when it costs everything.

Geraldine patted my hand.

I met her gaze.

“You’ve done more than your fair share.”

“I did what needed to be done. Like what you did for Mom.”

“I just read her stories and relived my childhood as she slept in a chair.”

“You also held her hand. That’s what mattered.”

Geraldine’s eyes filled with tears.

Sherman marched into the make-shift party grounds and boomed. “Hey, I got old family videos set up in the living room and there’s hot cocoa on the stove. Let’s take this party to new heights, shall we?”

Wide-eyed horror rippled over Marley’s face.

Geraldine stood and faced the crises with charming calm. “Family videos are for us older folks who have no plans tonight.” She sidled into the youth’s gathering and drew her daughter aside. They spoke, and Marley looked over.

My stomach sank. The obligatory thank you was heading my way, complete with the hunted look and swift backward glances, pleading for courage from her friends.

Marley stopped in front of me and wrung her hands, her shoulders thrust back, ready to do her duty. “Hey, Auntie, just wanted to thank you for everything. I never could have made it through college without your support.”

I nodded graciously. The sharp edge of my tooth cut my tongue. “Happy to help. ‘What good you can do, you should do,’ Mom always said.” I shrugged. “Besides, Joe left me more than I really needed. It was only right that I share.”

A perplexed expression squinted through Marley’s eyes. “Oh, the money was nice. But what I really mean was your—I don’t know—your being you. Always there. Someone who cared about me.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Mom and dad are great. But, you know, they don’t always understand.”

The combination of honest flattery and dishonest betrayal sliced through me.

Words fell from my lips before I could stop them. “No one understands us completely, Honey. Only bits and pieces. The parts that reflect what we know. The rest confuses the hell out of us. We just try not to get mean about it.”

A startled glimmer of understanding quivered over Marley’s face.

Then a high, laughing voice rose from the background, “Hey, Graduate, you coming?” One of the gals pointedly tapped her watch. Fun called. Best not be late.

Marley squeezed my hand and smiled, peering into my eyes as if to convey something no words could tell. Real gratitude?

I nodded in acceptance and let her go her way.

Geraldine swept the remnant of the party-goers inside while Sherman took charge of clearing the faded festive grounds.

I stood and swiped my wrapped tooth from beside my paper plate. I’ll get it fixed next week. Geraldine will fill me in on Sherman’s newest home-improvement project, and Marly will find a job, making a life somewhere, somehow.

A red balloon skittered out of my way as I stepped across the floor. I picked it up and carried it with me. For a while, at least, it could hang in honor on my kitchen wall.

And for that, I was glad.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/balloon-heart-grass-grasses-halme-208255/

Yet Another Day

Exorbitant fear dooms all,

In gloom see nothing but a fall.

Dear spirits above holding tight,

Overcome tragedy strong-willed might.

Fragile flowers do harsh winds face.

Honeybees against storms do race.

My roots dig deep to foundation core,

Faith holds me, feeds me from an ancient store.

When the light dims and fear overshadows all,

Casting webs, terror’s pall.

Hold on.

Breath deep.

To thy senses keep.

Prophet’s dire warnings, cruel words spew.

Tree tops to roots, malfeasance hew.

Trust is chosen.

Beyond all hope,

Faith and charity do elope.

Impossible tomorrow,

Where the future lies,

Abiding in grace, terror flies.

Believe in that which no eye can see.

This world or the next, our lives will be.

Today fear has its say.

Tomorrow’s yet another day.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunflower-flower-yellow-flower-2914973/

Now and Forevermore

As a kid, I knew my mind. I honestly believed I had a mind. But as the world turns on its axis, seasons change, and all forms of world leadership, pundits, and professionals offer their expertise, speeding through high-tech revolving doors, I find that my mind isn’t always my own.

Pursuing academic excellence is a fantastic way to lose one’s mind. But don’t stop there. Try marriage, parenting, and—goodness knows—volunteer service does wonders for one’s “I don’t know what I was thinking” mindset.

School days taught me to think. To read different resources. To consider various points of view. I have a distinct memory of sitting in a comparative religions class in my Catholic high school wondering if the teacher believed in anything at all. Respect implied an open mind to every question. An honest consideration that the presented view could possibly be the right one. Then they send in the next contestant. And so, on it went. Historical perspectives. Religious tenants. Persecution complexes. Vapid voyeurism. Collections and chapters detailing human interactions—interior thoughts and earthly battlegrounds—all striving to touch the finger of God.

Marriage snaps the sinews of personhood, demanding a level of “us-ness” that no one can properly prepare for no matter what bride magazine one subscribes to. Right after impassioned vows charges the inner-scream-crisis between self and self-denial. Have a mind-full opinion? Certainly. But share cautiously.

Parenting starts with euphoria, travels through exhaustion, canters about introspection, chokes out, “I don’t know” well before the kids’ reach their teen years, and sits humbly on a kitchen chair while family and friends illuminate what they can’t possibly see.

Volunteer service offers a nice platform to rest wounded egos and tired minds. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Between serving in Chicago’s inner city, a barrio in the Philippines, various pro-life adventures, and community opportunities, I’ve discovered that mindfulness abounds in every situation. To serve with a mind is one thing. To serve with the heart—quite another.

I’ve often wondered, who needs to have a mind when there are so many to choose from? As for the heart, well, it breaks all too easily.

Last night, I received a call from a woman who is arranging her mother’s funeral, and she had questions about the burial details. As the secretary for the local cemetery, I answered what I could and directed her to other resources when necessary. This morning, a funeral home called with information concerning another burial this weekend. The name rings familiar though I don’t know the man who died. He was a friend of a friend, his passing a loss to many.

When I accepted this position last year, I had no idea of what I was getting into. The logistics seemed simple enough. How hard can it be to bury a body? Little did I know. Seriously. We humans have an absolute knack for confusing ourselves and losing our loved ones. From attempting to locate bodies in unmarked graves using witching sticks (Not my idea—but certainly an experience I won’t soon forget) to submitting accurate records to the state of Illinois, I have learned the value of various kinds of knowledge.

My predecessor helps me with the records and relations between folks. The who’s who and how to negotiate unexpected inquiries. How many bodies can be buried in a site? Two—if they are cremations.  And, yes, sometimes people are buried in the wrong place, stones reflect broken family connections, and the rows aren’t always straight.

The grave digger offers his expertise—allowing me the security of double-checking my records and getting the facts, if not the lines, straight. No, bodies aren’t buried six feet under. Cremations can be hard to detect even a day later, and mounds over a full grave can linger for years.

In the end, literally and figuratively, I have discovered that though knowledge of the facts may be etched in stone and measured in records, it is the heartfelt memories that hold folks together—inside and out. The truest truth of a person isn’t detailed in words or numbers, it is shaped in lives. Those we know and those who know us through others, down through uncountable generations. DNA and the embodiment of the soul start a winding process that bends through dates, events, joys, and sorrows right into personhood.

The truth of who I am involves my mind, but it doesn’t end there. I am not what I think or who I know. More than tears, screams of frustration, cries of delight, or even laughter, I find myself concerned less with the content of my mind than the character of my heart. Or should I say characters… No man, woman, child, critter, or composition has left me untouched. I am chiseled and etched by the God who made me and the personalities of this world—now and forevermore.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/fantasy-landscape-mountains-stars-3668208/

See a Tree

Trees, in their giantess of spirit, talk to me on a daily basis. Thank God, or I don’t know who I’d go to for advice.

It’s the end of a long day—a Monday to be exact—and as hectic, overflowing Mondays have the uncanny habit of following slow, afternoon-nap Sundays, I fight the desire to head out to the edge of my property and simply be with my dear friend. No words necessary. Oak always understands.

I wouldn’t have to go into the tedious details concerning the weird dream where I painted a dirty wall then promptly tossed a blanket over a messy box that really deserved to be cleaned out, but, in dream-world impossibility, the blanket would simply have to do.

No need to explain the emails. How does one respond to sincere attempts to communicate in a world where opinions rampage like charging horses in a medieval joust, and it’s frankly disloyal—perhaps even disingenuous—to cheer?

Gordian knot, you’re playing with me.

Today’s foraging through the shops demanded keen instinct—keep to the designated list despite the fact that items left over from the holidays were practically a steal. Who wants to steal holiday decorations when looking forward to spring? Yeah, sure, there’s always next year… But tonight’s dinner quandary demanded my attention more. Fruits and vegetables. A last stand between winter and spring festivities. That or admit that ol’ Oak and I have more in common than I’d like to admit in matters of girth.

Noon found me strolling. Oak greeted me, always the gentlefolk, waving last seasons crumpled brown leaves, rustling a soothing tune. I still had a story to write, online school plans to cajole, money matters with which to contend, and dinner to devise.

Oak didn’t mind a bit of it. The wind blew. Clouds scuttled. With plaintive meows, cats arched their back in invitation, and dogs raced like puppies. A red bird shot onto the woods, a blue bird flashed by, and an eagle soared. If I wasn’t one with nature, it wasn’t for Oak’s lack of trying. Steadfast par excellence.

Pasta with two kinds of toppings kept the kids’ bodies and souls in happy coexistence. Presently sage and citrus incense burn over the glowing heater while Henrietta hamster daintily chips away at her carrot. I am staring at dark windows, knowing full well that Oak is still and quiet this time of night. He doesn’t need to speak. He just needs to be.

Maple out my bedroom window wakes me each morning with waving branches, seasonally decorated. I’m waiting for the spring-fairies to visit. Any day now. Pines pierce the sky, tossing their still-green branches in see-what-I-still-have proud display. A forgotten nest sways, unbroken, a hopeful reminder of summer guests.

In a time-is-running-out reality dotted with doubt, my arboreal familiars offer more than words can say. They speak in rustles, rough texture, variegated colors, off-white tones, but most honestly in their very existence. To be is their way.

No proof. No judgment. No certitude or pride.

To have been created says all. Alive. Perhaps not always perfectly. Rot infests the best of us. But speak, they do well.

Advice is best offered after sampled, and so, I find it true.

To clear the head and settle the soul—see a tree.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/nature-tree-dawn-landscape-3125912/

There Stands Lent

I’m not overly fond of Lent. The whole discipline aspect sets my teeth on edge. Isn’t life hard enough? What good is it to offer up a bit of sugar in my morning coffee? Or stifling honest irritation over vexing situations?

Strangely enough though, by the end of the second week, I’ve changed pretty much all my original sacrificial intentions and come to a whole new perspective on what God is asking of me. No voice-overs telling me that He doesn’t need the blood of bullocks to make His meaning clear. Life does that well enough, thank you.

Perhaps the swelling buds on trees, the sun peeking over the horizon earlier each morning, the contrast of melting ice and nesting birds has something to do with my appreciative understanding. Or the natural fact that eating better, getting a good night’s sleep, and sticking to chosen goals actually makes me feel better.

Lent reminds me that I make choices on a daily basis, and if my life feels out of control, it’s on me to deal with it. There are a host of things that I can’t control. But Lent insists that I bear not only the power but the responsibility to acknowledge my part in human affairs.

On the weekends, some of the girls and I pick a television series to watch together. Fun and comforting as that can be, I’ve also found it to be discombobulating to the extreme. Nearly every modern show, no matter the setting or the venue, has heavily accented a homosexual perspective. Apparently, homosexuality is the new crisis of our age. Though not new at all, really. Like abortion, it delves into the messy, dark side of human experience—the oft repeated strangled scream, “No one understands my pain.”

And there stands Lent, refuting the foot-stomping message that no one understands. God does understand. He is our Creator. We are the created. That reality informs and shapes us, our families, friends, and the entire known universe. It’s a sticking point, to be sure.

Our human experience isn’t defined by current cultural crisis: our sexual orientation, when life begins, human rights, or what makes us happy. The crux of human experience—on the most basic level—is a matter of truly accepting God as God, our existence as Created Beings, made in His Image, with the freedom to accept or reject what that means for us, (personally and as a member of the human race) now and in an unseen future.

Lent demands self-discipline. Without some effort at self-control, offering up the silly to the sublime or making an effort at self-improvement, inside and outside, it isn’t really a Lenten offering.

Lent is an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be Christian, a son or daughter of God, the created being of our Creator, who nourishes our lives at the root level, knowing better than we do what we really need.

And there lies the challenge. We don’t get to decide our parental DNA, our family heritage, our sex chromosomes, when life begins, or a host of other realities that we struggle with each day. We fight and argue, insisting that we know best—but do we?

Pushing against known boundaries has literally brought us closer to the stars. But has denying God’s Image at the core of our bodies, minds, and souls led us to the ends we really desire?

This year, when the kids and I plan our garden, though we have a great deal of freedom as to what to plant where, we still have to take into consideration factors that are beyond our control: weather, soil, time, and our own limitations.

Balancing human freedom within God-given realities does not make me less free, it makes sense of my existence. This human journey is not all about me. It’s about God and me and the rest of my human family. Lent reminds me that, like all serious relationships, this journey with my Creator involves sacrifice and self-control.

My coffee is more bitter of late, but beyond all expectations, my life is sweeter.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd0z

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/coffee-milk-sugar-cup-of-coffee-563797/

Those Pesky Black Holes

“Sucked into Black Holes During Sleep, They Share Their Darkest Secrets.”

Bruno read the headline twice, promptly running his cart into the store shelf. Stunned, he jerked his gaze off his phone.

“Hey, not supposed to read while driving.” A woman, fifties, blunt-cut, short hair, laughed with shining eyes.

Shocked, Bruno stashed his phone in his pocket and shoved his cart alongside the shelf, a guilty child trying to hide the evidence. He forced a grin. No words forthcoming.

She sidled up, her smile dimming by degrees. “Sorry. I tried to warn you. But you were so intent—”

He scratched his head. He didn’t want to have a conversation. A lie formed before his conscience could object. “I had to check a text—”

She lifted a hand. “Not my business. I was being stupid.” Her gaze took in the contents of his cart.

Dang, it. An extra-large bag of his dad’s Depends and a bright blue denture cleaner box bared the naked side of human misery. In revenge, he snuck a look at her cart. Red hair dye and blue nail polish. He glanced at her. Grey hair, fingers unadorned. He frowned.

She grimaced. “My mom’s dealing with that crap too. She was at Wayside, but with everything, I brought her home and got home healthcare. It’s better, but not really good, if you know what I mean.”

Relief, like a spring breeze, washed over Bruno. “Dad’s still on his own, sort of. Lives in the apartment above me. Neither of us can give up our independence. But…”

She snatched up the box of dye. “She gets bored and depressed. So, every couple of months I do a new treatment. This month—” Her lips flapped as she blew a puff of air. “Rad red! I’d like to take her out to eat or something—”

Bruno shrugged in compassionate understanding. “Hell trying to keep ’em on their feet.”

She snorted but a smile crept back into her eyes. “It was easier with a toddler. I could toss them into a cart and strap ‘em in.”

“My twins gave me weekly heart attacks, but they grew out of their hijinks.” Bruno tried not to let the next thought tear his heart out.

With a commander’s wave, she redirected her cart. “Well best of luck then, and keep an eye out for where you’re heading.”

“Ha. I’ll be more careful.” I’m not going anywhere.

~~~

Bruno flipped three grilled cheese sandwiches and then stirred a pot of creamy tomato soup. “Lunch is ready, Dad.”

His dad hobbled in. Using his cane with deft power, he nudged a kitchen chair aside and plunked down at the table with a long sigh. “Smells good. He stretched his neck, peering at the pot. “You add something extra?”

“Lots of garlic salt.” He slid one sandwich onto a plate and placed it on the table. Then he poured the soup into a wide bowl and set it alongside. He fixed his own meal, grabbed a couple of spoons, and dropped them into place. He plopped down on a chair across from his dad, folded his hands, and bowed his head.

Hurried sign of the cross, a quick prayer, and they started in.

Slurps and clanks of metal on glass accompanied their chewing and swallowing.

The old man glanced up, wiped his chin, and huffed. “Anything new in the big world?”

Bruno shrugged as he swallowed his last bite. “I ran into a shelf and some strange woman laughed at me.”

His eyes widening in horror, the old man spluttered. “The wretched—”

Bruno grinned. “I wasn’t looking where I was going, and she was nice enough.” He pulled out his phone. “I wanted to check something, and I got stopped by a headline—something about people falling into a black hole. Caught my attention at a weak moment. Smack. Hit the toothpaste shelf full speed.” 

Grinning, the old man rested his spoon on his empty bowl and tucked the used napkin underneath. “Good thing you didn’t hit a middle aisle. You could’ve set off a cascade of cat food.” He frowned. “What were you checking?”

A blush burned Bruno’s face. “There was such a variety of adult diapers. I had no idea.”

Dropping his gaze, a flush darkened his dad’s cheeks. “Aw, hell. I wish—”

“Don’t, dad. It’s not so bad. Everyone has stuff to deal with. That woman’s mom is depressed and needs a new perm every month.” He leaned in and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “And likes to have her nails done. I’ll take a bag of Depends over that any day.”

The old man’s hand shook as he reached across the table and pressed his son’s fingers.

~~~

Though dark clouds scuttled in from the north and the temperature was dropping, there was still enough time to get in one more lap around the park. Bruno shook the last vestiges of tension from his shoulders and focused on a pair of squirrels chasing each other around a tree.

He promptly bumped shoulders with a woman jogging by on his left.

Huffing, she scowled and stopped. “Hey! Look where—”

She looked strangely familiar. Embarrassment and dripping sweat sent an uncomfortable chill down Bruno’s back. “Sorry. I was—”

“Oh, you again.” A smile quirked her lips. “But you’re not texting and driving, at least. Thank God for that.”

A park bench behind the central swing set beckoned.

“I’m ready for a break. You?”

She nodded. “Sure. Mom’s napping, so I sneak out on the weekends to get in a little R & R.”

Trudging across the dead winter grass, he puffed a laugh. “You call running rest and relaxation?”

She plodded alongside. “Don’t you?”

He waited while she brushed broken twigs aside and plopped down.

They breathed freely for a few moments, gazing at the quiet park.

A trio of squirrels scampered past.

Bruno wagged his finger. “It was their fault, really. I got caught up in their drama.”

Laughter filled the park. A happy sound. She settled into a giggle. “Yeah, it’s always something, isn’t it?”

He turned. “How’s your mom doing?”

She blinked and swallowed. “Okay. Not really thrilled with the red. She wants to go back to being a blond, but with her wispy threads, it wouldn’t be pretty. Need something to distract the eye, if you know what I mean.” Changing course, she clapped one mittened hand over the other and focused on him. “And your dad. How’s he?”

“Scarfs down my grilled cheese and tomato soup like it’s going out of style.”

A fresh laugh, softer, but honest and appreciative.

Two plump robins hopped nearby.

He nudged her and signaled with his eyes.

She smiled. “Wish I brought something. Breadcrumbs…”

He nodded.

She cleared her throat. “You ever bring your dad out to eat? Like to your kids’ place or—”

He tipped his head. “I would, but they live in California. An airport would be a nightmare.” He cut his glance aside. “Yours?”

“Naw. They’re not very patient with her. Nice enough when I do everything, but they’re mostly eat-outers.”

Like a bobblehead, he just nodded a bit.

The clouds parted, and a ray of sunshine illuminated the park, bathing the playground in golden light.

“I have a ramp up to the kitchen door. A neighbor helped with it. Got treads and everything.”

“Me too.”

Two of the squirrels perched on a branch, sitting amiably. The third bounded toward the swings.

“Your mom likes grilled cheese?”

Though her head stayed down, a smile lit her face brighter than sunshine. “She loves it.” She looked over, shifting in her seat, getting a firmer position. “I make a fantastic beef stew. Really easy to chew but nutritious as all get out.”

“Really?” He pulled out his phone. “You know, I read that black holes have been catching people while they sleep. Thought maybe you’d like to help me keep watch out for ‘em.” He cleared his throat, scrounging up his courage. “Maybe we could have dinner together sometime—your mom, my dad—us.”

A glimmer entered her eyes as her smile widened. “Oh, yeah. Got to keep our eye out for those pesky black holes. They swallow people alive, I hear, unless we help each other out.”

He stood and pointed across the park. “My place is just there. Dad’s got his own ideas about things—but he’s feisty enough to keep black holes at bay. Care to meet him?”

She stood and squared her shoulders. “Only if you’re willing to meet my mom. God knows what color her hair will be.”

He laughed as he nudged her forward. “Long as she hasn’t been swallowed whole—she’ll be all right with me.”

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/science-science-channel-5350597/

I Lift My Gaze

“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” ~Walt Disney

When I heard Walt Disney’s quote in the movie Saving Mr. Banks a few weeks ago, I knew that he had hit upon a powerful truth. Little did I realize at the time how much I would need to believe that it was the truth, clinging to hope beyond my human sight.

Since January first of this year, I have been hit with a series of personal losses. My brother, closest in age to myself, died unexpectedly at fifty-eight. The next week, my father-in-law passed away. One of our most faithful dogs, Sheba, died the following morning.

Death is part of the human cycle. I know that. Everyone knows that. But how we die can change everything for those left behind. And how we face life without them, either makes or breaks the order of our universe.

My mother, my childhood friend, my husband, nor my two brothers realized that they would die when they did. Each had plans, things to say and do the next day. But reality took over, and their will was not done according to their plans. Those left behind had to deal with what the situation offered, painful as it was.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of accepting tragic reality. So many things should have happened—but didn’t. Forgiveness and love should have softened hearts. Despair and pain should never have the last word. Too many times, a peaceful death is mere illusion, and we suffer sunderings that rip and tear, rather than breathe new life into our spirits.

So, what then?

Do I fashion a new ending? Write a happier, though fictions scene?

God created human beings with incredible imaginations. Based on His own, surely. Free will still reigns, a powerful force in a world full of ironic caprice. Restoring order, for me, is not about writing a better story despite a sad ending—it means becoming a better person, knowing that I can’t see the end.

I choose where to focus my gaze. Whether I scream at fate or hug a wounded inner-child, no one leaves this world in perfect shape. Scourged by hurts, pierced by grief, alone in confusion, there are plenty of reasons for giving in and giving up.

But what good would that do?

Lessons are learnable: Excessive drink and drugs destroy the body. Isolation and silence tear a soul to pieces. Loneliness is depressing, and despair is deadly. Evil acts bear bitter fruit.

I choose to believe that the end is not the end. I revel in the Grace that animated the positive aspects of those I loved. Gratitude is more than an attitude; it heals wounds so that we can grow new lives in glorious form.

When faced with death, I lift my gaze from the grave and remember the good, noble, strong, decent, kind, and beautiful aspects of the person I knew. I forgive. In my imagination, I do not refashion an idealized version of their lives. I learn from mistakes and hope that through the grace of painful lessons learned, that others (and my future self, perhaps) may be spared a few griefs at least.

The moon now shines through a cloudy sky, highlighting the bare branches of our winter woods. Crusty snow and icy cold made it too risky to go out today. But it was not a wasted day. It was a blessed day. Because I chose what to make of it. And despite sad realities and night falling, this is not the end.

I will hope again tomorrow.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In Production)

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/faith-love-hope-clouds-sky-hand-4880805/

New Generation

House, Deserted, Abandoned, Old, Landscape, Prairies

Elmer knew better than to believe in ghosts. But when he awoke with sweat beading on his forehead and the sensation that he had just returned from a long journey through wild-lands with only his body and wits intact, he knew that something otherworldly was at work.

His wife stirred at his side. She slapped the blankets, her face half-smashed against the pillow, her eyes squeezed shut. “Don’t get up…too early.”

Too early or too late? He pressed his chest trying to steady his galloping heart. “Hon-honey?”

One eye opened. Not a flicker of interest.

“Do you remember going to a desert town with broken-down buildings and getting kidnapped?”

Lana sat up, groggily rubbing her fingers through her short tufts of hair.

Elmer swallowed the lump in his throat. What happened to her luscious brown locks?

She steered her gaze over her husband, taking the long tour. Dubious. Pity?

His hands shaking, Elmer threw off the wrinkled sheets and stalked to the bathroom. He swiped on the cold water, splashed his face, straightened, and snatched a towel. He wiped the drips running down his baggy t-shirt. Have I lost weight? He sucked in a shuddering breath. “What day is it?”

Lana padded across the bedroom. “Sunday, goof. New Year’s Day, remember?”

An electric bolt sizzled through his body. “N-new year?”

With a snarky laugh, Lana strolled into the bathroom wearing a calf-length night dress that should look sexy as hell, but didn’t.

Elmer stared. Why?

She leaned her head on his shoulder, a buddy-nudge, nothing wifely about it. “You remember the year, right?”

Terror gripped Elmer, nearly closing his throat. “Twenty-twenty—”

“Ha-ha! Got ja!” She smacked him, grinning like a lottery winner. “You had a whole year to get used to the thirties, and now you’ve slipped-up. Used to make fun of me!”

His gaze shifted from his wife to the mirror. Where did these grey streaks come from? His eyes—haggard and…vacant? Lord, have mercy.

Frowning, Lana shoved off and crossed her arms, the tilt of her body accenting the sharpness of her bony frame. “Twenty-thirty-one! We toasted and the VR bots cheered. Remember?”

Elmer slapped his face. “Ten years?” He retreated to the bedroom, marched to the window, and lifted the curtain. A barren square of dead grass met his eyes. Only a rotting stump stood in testimony of past life. “What the—” He turned and glared at Lana. “Where’s our backyard?”

“Backyard?” She tiptoed forward and pressed her cold hand against his forehead. “You feeling all right?” She leaned in and stared deep into his eyes. “Time for your new-gen?”

A chill ran down his spine as he stared at the strange woman.

An elegant roll of the eyes. She flounced to the bedside, yanked open a drawer, and gripped a tube. She shook it, grinning. “You skipped your last dose—see what happens? Bad dreams, memory troubles… You need a pop and time inside.” Swinging the tube, she strode out of the bedroom.

His stomach dropped. Dragging it along behind, Elmer followed like a wary dog.

He faced what should have been his living room—a modern setup with overstuffed chairs, a broad couch, a large screen television centered on the back wall, matching end tables with iron lamps—opening to a large island-dominated kitchenet.

He froze.

Two worn chairs faced a bank of curved screens.

His gaze scraped the bare walls and grey floor. Cold. Dingy. Crumps, dust, stains, clutter. Broken family portraits lay scattered. One oil painting, ripped on the left side, stood propped on the floor, a forgotten project.

Elmer licked his lips. “Wh-where’s the Christmas tree?”

A snort and hollow laughter. “Christmas tree! What the hell is wrong with you?” She lumbered to the kitchen and dragged a chipped cup from the sink. She slapped the faucet, let water fill the container, plopped in a white pill, and watched it sizzle. She held out her offering. “Drink up!”

His whole body trembling, Elmer backed up, his hands raised. “What’s going on?”

Confusion raced irritation over Lana’s face. “I’ve heard of memory lapses, but this is a bit much. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Elmer edged his way to the nearest chair and plopped down, his body conforming to the seat, oddly comforting. “Christmas. We stopped at church for our ten-minute visit, came home, did our family video, then opened gifts. Jason gave us that new Virtual Reality Game…”

Lana sneered. “Ancient history, Elm. Christmas…church—mythology. Video chats for work, yeah, but who cares about family—it’s only DNA.” She wrinkled her nose and held out the cup.

He accepted it and sniffed. Nothing.

She tapped her wrist, bringing the screens to life. Rotating images flashed—a rainforest, a medieval castle, and a desert with broken down buildings. “Time to get back to the real world.”

~~~

Sucking in a heaving breath, Elmer shot up in bed, his heart racing. He glanced wildly around.

Lana, her long brown hair running riot over the blankets, lay on her side, her face in peaceful repose.

He heaved a long sigh and softly inched out of bed. Padding to the bathroom, he stared in the mirror. No grey streaks. A little bloodshot and brooding, but definitely his eyes. Thank God.

“Honey?”

Elmer froze.

“I’m so tired. Get me that New-gen Marge gave me last night, okay?”

Blinking, Elmer trotted to the living room and snatched the curtain away from the bank of windows. A soft blanket of snow covered their miniature backyard. The maple tree still standing in the center. Furniture, Christmas tree, paintings on the wall. Familiar. Home. He released a long breath.

“Honey?” Her voice had risen to a whine.

Like a wolf approaching a strange den, he sidled toward the kitchenet. The flash of a curved screen glinted from under the tree as he went by.

A red box with huge letters “A New Generation” screamed on the central island.

His fingers trembling, Elmer opened the box.

~~~

Elmer closed the door, padded to his bedroom, and flopped onto the bed.

Sitting propped against a bank of colorful pillows with a book in her hands, Lana peered at him through narrowed eyes. “I still don’t get why you had to have the whole family over.”

Elmer shrugged.

“And what happened to the new VR set Jason gave us?”

Elmer kicked off his shoes and slid back onto the pillows. He wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “We don’t need it.”

She shook her head. “Like Marge’s gift?” She laid the book on her lap. “You know, you’ve been a different guy since New Year’s Day.”

Elmer exhaled and pulled his wife close, his passion real and desire rising. “I hope so, sweetie. I hope so.”

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/house-deserted-abandoned-old-4828660/

Come Out of the Cold

Stupid mistakes left Trix cold. Her own especially. Who on planet Earth was responsible for spelling? And could she find a legal precedent for killing the nameless perpetrators outright or would it have to be a clandestine affair? Though surely, she’d had a good portion of the world’s fifth-graders in her corner.

Was it her fault that few human beings could state her name without topping it off with an “ie,” turning her name into a bunny meme, or that grey was spelled with an a on one side of the Atlantic and with an e on the other? What demon-possessed people to care—much less sing-song their way through a quarterly review, insisting that she better shape up or—

The words had been left hanging. Just like that. An unspoken doomsday “Trix End.”

Trix stomped through the grocery store, huffing through her mask, which only fogged up her glasses. Lord have mercy. Would the trials of the year never end?

Head down, shoulders at ear level, she maneuvered her cart through the seafood aisle, blinking at the prices. She mumbled to herself, though visions of serving shrimp with some-kind-of-undetectable-poison-and-watching-her-bossy-boss-slip-to-the-floor-dead flashed through her mind.

“Hey, Trixie!”

Glowing lava rocks exploding from an active volcano had nothing on Trix at that moment. She grimaced, keeping her eyes wide so that as far as anyone reading a masked expression could figure, there was a smile under there somewhere. She faced Brenda, one of the homeschooling moms who sat behind her at Mass. She had polished a small mittened-hand wave to good effect. “Hey, Brenda.”

“So, are you going to the Winter Fun Event on the town square on Sunday?”

Rolling her eyes to the ceiling, Trix mentally consulted her calendar. She had to teach school all week, an editing project was due on Thursday, her dad had slipped on the ice, so she wanted to drop off some chocolate panaceas on Friday. Saturday, she’d charge into battle against the encroaching spiderwebs, dust bunnies, and household scum that managed to accumulate when her back was turned. Sunday remained her shield against overwork and flippant insanity. “Well, I’m not sure. I’ve got a lot going on. And besides, is it safe?”

Attempting to avoid a maniacal expression, Trix hid her grin behind her mask. The “Is it safe?” comment usually stopped every conversation cold. She glanced aside at the rows of frozen foods. A suitable location, indeed.

Even behind her they-all-look-alike mask, it was obvious, Brenda’s face fell. Her eyes dimmed. Her joy-spark snuffed.

Geeze! Who cares about Winter Fun? I have my sanity to keep track of! Isn’t that more important!

Trix tried to cool the use of mental exclamation points, but her heart sank to her chilled boots. If Old Scrooge could see her now, he’d embrace her as a fellow frozen-soul.

Good soldier and honest Christian lady who kept faith with all sorts of happy thoughts, Brenda squared her shoulders and drowned whatever sorry-reality haunted the depth of her eyes. “No problem. I was just asking. You’re right to be careful. Just sometimes, you know—” She glanced aside, definitely not seeing the delightful array of frozen yogurts. “You’re doing well. That’s all that matters.”

Trix’s icy heart started to drip.

Her mistake hit Brenda like a bullet train. She burst with contrition. “Oh, I forgot. I said Trixie—and you hate that. Sorry. I mess up names all the time, so I use those stupid mnemonic-things to remember. But I still manage to—” Gripping her cart with dejected humiliation, she aimed for the meat and cheese aisle.

Her cheeks flushed, Trix swallowed a chunk of ice. She stopped Brenda’s cart. “I’m heading to the candy aisle to find something chocolatey for my dad. Want to come?”

As they turned into the next aisle and at the sight of Brenda’s tear-filled eyes, Trix snatched a box of cocoa off the passing shelf. “You want to stop by for a cup Sunday afternoon? We’ll both need warming up.” She grinned right through her mask.

It was good to come out of the cold.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/adventure-ice-cave-cold-exploration-1850094/

A Great Equalizer

Outside the sun shines on still-green grass while glistening spider webs rock in a gentle breeze. Dead, prickly flower heads bob on brown stems while clusters of rust-colored oak leaves rattle against the bare branches of neighboring trees.

Even the indoor plants oppose each other in stark contrast. My green succulents proudly lean their round petals toward the window while my houseplants lay limp, trailing their vines over ceramic pots; clearly, life has become too hard to bear in an upright position.

The great outdoors beckons, though I know perfectly well that the air has grown frigid. I’ll take my daily jaunt along the harvested field next to the woods at twilight—the most honest time of the day—when shadows play with the lingering light rays. Sunshine makes grand promises and offers a glorious spectrum, but inevitably night returns and covers all with the equality of darkness.

Some of the most powerful writers I know contrast bright humanity with our dark side. I always wondered about that. I need to be inspired, enriched, offered a crumb of hope in a mottled world. I can’t live on cigarette butts and broken glass. Turning from divorce and disfunction, cancer and casualties, abuse and absurdities, toward honest marriages, healthy lives, and baby hugs make each sunrise an embrace of possibilities. Yet, no matter how much I value daylight, night still falls. The price of sanity is to accept the reality of good and evil, happiness and misery.

That is probably why I enjoy twilight. It’s the cross over, the time between, the slow-down after a busy day, reminding me that I’m not all-powerful, all-seeing, all-anything. After attending to various matters from decoding modern calculators to figuring out (yet again!) why the toaster won’t toast on one side, I reflect and pray on matters that really matter. My friend’s young daughter who has been having epileptic seizures, an elderly lady’s nephew who fell and broke his back, a recent widower who is trying to figure out where to bury his wife’s ashes, two cases of abused trust, and a country so divided that conversations break down and pointed accusations, like blowing ash, are all that’s left of the fire that used to unite us.

Night is a great equalizer. I see why notable writers dare to tread on such sacred, painful ground. None of us live in continual daylight. No one knows all or sees all. Charging ahead in the darkness leads to dangerous falls.

The sun just dropped behind the horizon and the late-autumn trees appear stark against the pale, fading light. I walk along the uneven field, watching each step, and slow my mind and my heart to ponder and pray. Night falls on harvested fields and evergreens alike.

I head home, following the light of ancient stars, knowing the sun will rise on a new day. Rested and comforted by hope for a future I cannot yet see, I will stand and meet it.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Photo https://pixabay.com/images/search/autumn,%20fields%20and%20woods/