Milestones

Milestones mark my place in life. I’m X many years old, graduated from such-and-such, married to so-and-so on a specific date and watched him die so many years later, gave birth to my children on appointed dates, grieved the loss of loved ones when and where, washed and dried twenty ka-billion loads of laundry, launched three careers, and savored countless peanut M & Ms.

Guess I’m done, eh? No need for another resolution. The umpteenth—“I’ll eat better, exercise more, practice charity, humility, self-control,” (We’re not referring to those M & Ms) or any other “I’ll-become-a-better-person-as-soon-as-I-get-it-planned-out-and-written-in-non-erasable (PDF?) format.

I sit in the park with this thought for a total of fifteen seconds and wonder why I’m not hyperventilating with joy. Doing Free-To-Be–Me cartwheels. Ignoring the indisputable fact that I’d appear deranged to the innocent folks walking their dogs.

Maybe because I’m not completely happy with the thought?

Err…that’s hardly in tune with the Love-Yourself-As-You-Are-So-You-Can Love-Others theme song I hear reverberating across the universe these days.

But then… (Yes, I am chatting to myself, and no one has said anything, so I think I’m okay for the moment.) I’m hardly ever completely happy. Really.

I have yet to become or meet anyone I think is absolutely perfect in every way, who can forgo the next life lesson stomping into the kitchen in the form of a confused child, or a comeuppance, appearing a lot like an irate boss with a hidden agenda, or the glory of a forgiving friend who remembers your birthday when you totally forgot theirs.

My life has always been about moving forward. Even when that “forward” ends up being a circle that meets up—a little chagrined—a couple of millimeters ahead of where I started.

Last year, I started dating for the first time since my husband died. Several dates and one almost relationship later, I’m only slightly wiser. I did learn some things. Some good. Some not so good.

Mostly, I realize once again that anything real comes in stages. Slowly. In relation to other things growing alongside, so everything can grow together in a healthy manner.

Like tomatoes for salsa. You have to start the seeds at the right time so they don’t get all spindly before the last frost signals real spring. And it’s a darn good idea to plan them so that the peppers ripen about the same week, or the tomatoes will rot, waiting for their culinary complements.

As a woman with kids, family connections, and life commitments, there is more to every human relationship than attraction, common interests, and shared goals.

Lots of people and circumstances to consider. And then there’s the reality of timing and hiking up that steep learning curve. Did I get an A+ on the last relationship lesson, or should I take remedial classes in self-awareness?

Allowing other people to have their say in the conversation makes what might otherwise seem impossible, quite possible. It’s the best defense before the big guns—I-got-to-get-it-done-by-this-date and it-should-look-like-this-when-I’m-done mentality shoots down relationships and ends conversations before they really get started.

So, my life is made of milestones. Resolutions. Learning curves. Timing and openness. If next year, I’m only a couple of millimeters ahead…again… Well, a step forward is a step forward—no matter how small.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

HeartBeats—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

Short Stories

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

And To Think

Stacy stared at the enrollment form and frowned at the first line. She hated her name. No imagination at all. Her parents might just as well have named her munchkin or kiddo.

Perched on the edge of an icy blue cafeteria chair, she sipped from a steaming cup of mud-colored cocoa. She had taken the entire afternoon off from work just so she could sign up for a night class that would inch her one step closer to getting her teaching degree. Not that she wasn’t already teaching. But only as an assistant. If she wanted the title and pay of a “real” teacher, she needed the certificate with her name on it.

Youngsters looking very much like loping trees bustled down the corridor, talking, shoving, laughing in the way that carefree youth usually do. Conflicts with the landlord, insurance issues, and a steamy romance gone haywire probably didn’t disturb their optimistic lives. Her mom, a couple of good friends, and a decent job didn’t a thrilling life make. She wished she were someone else with a better name. She tapped her purple pen, inscribed with a goofy cartoon character down one side, against her mini-notepad. Nothing new to write today.

She took another sip of cocoa, closed her eyes, and sighed.

Two chairs scraped on her right and an on-going conversation dominated the swirling sounds around her. Two trays plunked down on the table, plastic smacking plastic. A woman’s voice—excited, eager, and determined clawed at Stacy’s insides.

Don’t listen! Keep your mind on the cocoa!  She popped her eyes open, clutched the cup like a drowning victim gripping a lifeline and swallowed a burning gulp.

The woman rattled on mercilessly. “And so—I told my husband, ‘You’re so ignorant, and then I slammed the door in his face.’”

Stacy wondered if it would look odd if she pressed her hands against her ears and started rocking in place.

The other woman’s voice piped up, practically breathless. “And then?”

Stacy stared at her pen, focusing on the inane figure. A student had presented this gift as a token of her appreciation for Stacy’s effort to teach her long division using pictures and creative stories. She knew the child would probably be haunted by math for the rest of her life, but apparently, the kid appreciated sincere efforts. Stacy glanced aside, hoping the two women had evaporated.

The first woman clearly liked bright flowers for she wore an eye-catching blouse that would have put a landscape artist to shame. But unfortunately, her language was as loud as her clothes. “So, the idiot slept on the couch!”

A psychic warrior battling for peace of mind—jabbing at judgments, parrying insinuations, knocking off observations, and blasting conclusions could not have fought any harder. But never the less, a picture of a man’s sad, pathetic face as the door closed on him…and then his drooping figure trudging to a sagging couch and flopping down in a bundle of husbandry despair filler Stacy with red-eyed rage.

A little voice tried to reason with her. You don’t know these people, woman!

She whirled her gaze around the food court. Uncaring neon signs glared back: Asian Delights, Mexican Combos, All American Platters, and a Salad Bar.

Inhale. Exhale. Mind your own business!

Stacy slurped her cold cocoa and then mopped up the dribbles dotting the table.

The lively chatting continued though the voices dropped an octave.

New pictures formed in Stacy’s mind. A shoe sale, something about church services, and a trip to the airport with a secret admirer?

Enough! Stacy jumped to her feet, wondering if it was possible to have her imagination disconnected from her brain. She dumped her Styrofoam cup into the trashcan and headed for the door.

Once out in the late afternoon sunshine, she prompted her feet toward the football-field-sized parking lot. Her car was out there…somewhere.

A child’s scream turned her attention. With a hand blocking the slanting rays of the sun, she scanned the area. There, next to a table and bench on a grassy field, stood a lanky man wearing jeans and a black hoodie, gripping the arm of a young girl in a pink skirt and an oversized sweater. The child struggled to pull away.

Stacy’s heart constricted. She fumbled for her phone, but as her panic increased, she hustled toward the child faster than her fingers could unzip her purse. She halted before the pair, staring or glaring, she wasn’t sure.

The child glanced at Stacy, cut the scream dead, and slammed herself against the man, wrapping her arms around his middle and pressing her face into his stomach.

A burning blush tingled from Stacy’s face to the roots of her hair. She scratched her head and wavered.

The man waved as if conducting an orchestra. “She’s being dramatic. Like always, eh, honey bun?” He peered down at the child, and a grin played on his lips. “Not too happy that mama is taking a class, and you can’t be in on the action?”

“Oh.” Stacy hadn’t a clue what else to say.

The girl pulled away, propped her hands on her hips, tilted her head, and accused Stacy. “You’re a teacher here!”

Stacy lifted her hands in surrender. “Oh, no ma’am. I do help out a school, and I want to be a teacher someday. But right now, I’m just taking classes, like your mom.”

The child nodded in defeat. She leaned comfortably against the man. “Daddy? Can’t I at least draw something? It’s so boring out here.”

Now it was the man’s turn to flush. “Sorry, baby. I left your pencils at home.”

Stacy plunged her hand into her purse and pulled out her notepad and purple pen. “Here, kiddo, take these. You can draw pictures for your mama and give them to her when she comes out. I bet she’ll like that.”

The man tried to wave off the gifts, but the child took them with eager hands and a surprisingly charming grin.

Once she found her car and started the long drive home, Stacy glanced in the mirror and laughed. “Who’s the kiddo, eh?”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

I Think I’ll Live

Sometimes silence cuts deeper than words. Philip laid his phone aside and stared at his desk. It was a half-day Friday, so his students had gone home early and the other teachers were busy in their rooms, doing whatever set up they still needed to accomplish before the full academic season started in earnest. He could hear someone stapling in the hall. Putting up the “Welcome Back!” bulletin board no doubt.

He swiveled in his chair and did a one-eighty, surveying his classroom from one end to the other. Everything looked neat and well organized. Luckily, this year he had been assigned the end room with windows facing southeast. So there would be plenty of bright sunshine for his grumpy morning students, but it wouldn’t face the worst of the storms coming in from the west.

He should be thrilled. Well, he should at least be happy. But his gut felt tight and his chest leaden. A whole month had passed since Kelly had stopped talking to him. Ghosted him was the new slang though he hated the term. She wasn’t a ghost. Just someone he had loved and lost. Simple as that. Life moved on.

Or it should.

A knock on the door turned his attention. Brent, his colleague in the math and science department, stood hesitating in the doorway. A grin swept over his face but was quickly replaced by a concerned frown. “Hey—just wondered if you’d like to grab some lunch.”

Philip climbed to his feet feeling every bit of his fifty-five years. He had been married to a lovely lady who died suddenly from a brain aneurysm twelve years ago, raised his four boys as a single parent to the point where they were now on their own and doing great, a testimony to their creative spirits and his hard work. He loved teaching, been doing it for more years than he cared to remember, but this year it seemed stale and tasteless. Like so much of life. He met Brent’s gaze and forced a smile. “Sure. Sounds good.”

When they entered the small-town diner, Brent nudged Philip toward the red booth in the back. “Might as well get a break from all the noise. We’ll get enough of that starting Monday.”

Philip shifted his body into the booth and looked around. Nothing had changed since the last time he had been here—springtime—when his world was bursting with life and new adventures. Now, late August, he wondered at his naiveté. Who was he to think he could fall in love like a kid and start a new life? He shook his head and flipped open the menu.

Brent made a humming noise as he perused his choices. He tapped a spot and glanced up. “You ever have the Rueben?”

Philip shrugged. “Yeah. It’s okay. Nothing to write home about, though.”

Brent nodded and continued his search. He tapped the menu again. “I’m craving red meat and something salty.”

Philip’s stomach clenched. He had lost five pounds this month, and he knew he needed to eat, though nothing tasted good anymore. Still, a hamburger and fries might restore a modicum of balance to his system. “I’ll have the cheeseburger, steak fries, and a cola.”

Brent waved to the waitress and ordered the same. He watched her tuck her pad into a pocket and saunter away, then he stared at Philip. “So, you going to tell me about it?”

Philip shrugged and wrapped his fingers around the full water glass the waitress had brought. Condensations dribbled down his fingers. He took a sip and pushed the glass aside. “Nothing much to tell.”

Brent leaned back and lounged in the booth like a guy about to tell a long story.

Philip winced. He knew darn well what was coming.

Brent’s gaze floated to the ceiling. “So, you remember my sister, Krista?” His eyes rolled over Philip’s slight nod. “Well, she was an adorable kid. A real sweetheart. But she had the unfortunate luck to marry a louse. A jerk beyond redemption.”

Philip’s eyebrows lifted, but he kept his mouth firmly closed.

“So after the divorce, I took her aside and gave her a little advice. She listened, and she’s been happily married to a great guy for…” Brent closed one eye in concentration. “About twelve years now.”

The waitress sauntered up with drinks, napkins, and silverware they didn’t need. Only the clattering of the cold glasses hitting the Formica table and a tiny hum she apparently carried with her filled the booth.

As she turned away, Philip met Brent’s gaze and sighed. “So, okay. I know you’ll die if you don’t…so go ahead. Tell me.”

Philip leaned forward and clasped his hands. “I told her to think of the best men she had ever known in her life…our dad…a teacher she respected…me, of course…and then figure out what she liked about those guys. Then look for those qualities in a man she might like to date. Ignore looks, education, style, money. Just find a guy who she liked and trusted. Then she’d find she find a real husband.”

Philip nodded. “I found a woman I liked and trusted. It just turned out, I was wrong to do so.”

Brent shook his head. “You found a woman you wanted to like and trust. Big difference, man. Real trust takes time. Everything real takes time.”

“You think I was too quick to trust her?”

“With your heart. Yep. But that’s not a fault really. Just a painful lesson. Funny thing is…Krista’s second marriage is so much better than her first. Probably because she really appreciates him, and he really appreciates her.”

“Our wounds make us weaker. More uncertain.”

Brent whistled low.

The waitress pursed her lips tight as she centered the plates on the table before the two men. She darted a glance from one to the other, measuring their moods. “Everything okay?”

Brent smiled. “It’s lovely.”

With a hesitating smile, she swung away.

Brent lifted his burger and inspected it like a scientist doing a data check. “Think this will give me a heart attack?”

Philip shrugged. “Only if you inhale it and five more like it.”

“Wisdom of Solomon, man.”

They ate in relative silence while the rest of the diner bustled in noonday chatter. A tired mother shoveled food into her mouth while bouncing a toddler on her knee. Two teenage girls laughed behind their hands, their eyes darting to four construction guys perched on stools at the counter, their bare arms coated in dirty sweat. One middle-aged man, his left hand stretched out holding a phone, appeared to be scrolling through messages…or the day’s news. His face remained impassive though his right hand carried a soupspoon to his mouth, and he swallowed a mouthful at all the right intervals.

Philip dropped his half-eaten burger on the plate and shoved it aside. He took a long slurp of his soda and tapped his fingers on the table. “I really should get back.”

Brent wiped his mouth and shook his head. “Where? You got some hot date waiting?”

Philip’s jaw clenched.

Brent washed his last bite down with the soda. “Look. I’m not trying to be cruel, but you’ve wasted enough time, waiting for what ain’t gonna happen. She made her choice. So you gotta move on. Now, I know you still feel a bit sore about things…but I do have another sister…and she’s…”

Philip’s eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding!” He waved his hand at the diner as if encompassing that part of the world. “This whole thing was a setup?”

“Not exactly. But…just let me say this. Sometimes other people can help us see things more clearly than we can see for ourselves. If you get what I mean. I could’ve told you that Kelly wasn’t your type. Or rather…you weren’t her type.”

“You could’ve, huh?”

“Yep. And being the decent, good-hearted man that I am—a friend indeed—as they say. I think I might know a good match when I see one.”

“So? What’s the condition? I know you’ve got something…”

“Just give my sis, Ronda, a chance; that’s all I ask. She’s not a beauty…on the outside. Kinda the runt of the family. Real shy because of it. But she’s got a heart of gold, is smart and knows how to get things done. She’s got love to give…but too many guys are looking for that magic chemistry…that cute chick. The spark. You know what I mean. They don’t know how to make a friend and fall in love with a beating heart.”

Philip took a fry and chewed it thoughtfully. He took a sip of soda and stared at Brent. “So what…you set us up on a date? Wouldn’t she feel kinda weird about going out with a perfect stranger?”

“Naw, nothing like that. Just come around to dinner tomorrow. She always comes on Saturday nights and helps out. She’s a good cook—if that interests you.”

“I’m a good cook…I don’t need… But…yeah, what the heck. It’ll be better than sitting home alone.”

Brent polished off his burger and fries with relish. He waved at the waitress for the check. A grin spread wide over his face as Philip took the last bite of his burger and slurped down the dregs of his soda. “You liked it?”

“Yeah. It was surprisingly good. Best thing I’ve eaten in a while.”

“Guess you’re going to live, eh?”

Philip nodded and stretched, his stomach full for the first time in months and his heart a touch lighter. “Yeah. I think I’ll live…”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

A Deep Moral Dilemma

So, an old farmer friend called today and asked if I wanted my annual bales of straw. Since the dogs and cats seem to appreciate the snug houses my kids build for them each autumn, I maintained my routine. My friend is the kind of person that I’m convinced that if more people acted like him, angels could retire. Uncomplicated but thoughtful. Honest yet self-effacing. He’ll never take money for the bales. Though, thankfully, he will take jars of homemade pickles, salsa, and jam.

Near the end of our “How’s life treating you?” conversation, which naturally canvasses the weather, family, and sublime universal themes, he asked if I needed any wood this winter. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to say. Seemed like a simple question, but it involved a deep moral dilemma.

When my late husband and I moved out to the country, we hadn’t a fig’s newton what we were doing. We were both city people and the idea of raising children in the country seemed so terribly healthy and right. So—you know—natural. Turns out—it sure is. But nature is nothing to be sniffed at.

John being John, he did all the muscle work, and I did the other stuff. House management. Finances. Kid care. Education. We made an excellent team. We were practically Amish in our desire to keep everything as natural as possible. As close to home as possible. As holistic as possible. We were going to “steward” our world, not destroy it.

After his death, I continued our long-standing traditions. So far as I was able. A few things changed, though. The bees have had to manage on their own, and I’ve about given up reasoning with the hens. They lay wherever the huff they want to and good luck finding the eggs before the dogs do.

But before my friend called today, the kids and I had been watching a documentary on JRR Tolkien. At one point, his son, Christopher, described Tolkien’s severe dislike for machinery, and my mouth about dropped to the floor. How familiar—that sense that man-made takes us away from God-made. Except in the case of washing machines, of course. Washing machines are a divine gift to the human race. Try washing eight sets of kids’ clothes by hand, and you’ll see what I mean.

Getting older myself, and having kids who keep adding years to their ages at an alarming rate, I realized that perhaps our woodstove would become another casualty of “Things-That-Just-Can’t-Be-Managed.” I like the woodstove because the heat feels warmer and because, like the garden, it takes healthy work. I’m more sensitive to the weather and the natural world around me because I have to plan ahead if a cold blast or a storm is coming. The kids have to fill the stick boxes. Wood has its own lovely scent, rough texture, and can smash your fingers if you’re not careful. I wasn’t ready to let the woodstove go, but I honestly couldn’t scrounge off my friend or chop down the scanty woods we have around here. So I explained that I’d love to keep the wood stove going, but…

Turns out, my friend has a friend who sells wood at a reasonable price and even delivers. Reprieve! Tendrils of wood smoke will still grace our chimney this winter.

I certainly appreciate Tolkien’s view on machines…though I’ve made peace with more hardware than I’d like to admit. Still, I think he had a point…and my younger less-worn-out self had a point too. Nature-made tools and materials speak to a part of our humanity that we often abandon for more efficient manmade tools. They demand a level of attentiveness and care that comfort seekers might find irritating.

Yet I can’t ignore the fact that my critters abandon their plastic igloos and snuggle up in their straw bale abodes ever winter, and nothing beats the cheery glow, embracing warmth, and crackle of a wood fire on a cold evening. Perhaps I feel this way because I, too, am naturally God made…

But I’ll still keep the washing machine.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

I’ll Always Know

“She’ll never know.”

As I tromped along the cornfield-bordered road, I clamped down on the squirming kitten and stared bug-eyed at my friend-sometimes-worst enemy. “Won’t know? As in won’t notice another kitten among her whole slew of critters?”

Janet smiled that patronized smile she had—like she was four years older rather than four months. “Exactly.” She nudged me in the ribs.

My ribs had taken enough from the pounding of my heart. I stopped then and there. A storm was coming, and the kitty was onto it. That and the fact that we were well beyond my property line. “Listen, I’m not a deceptive person by nature. This whole enterprise—”

“Enterprise? We’re not on a starship. We’re in the middle of a blinking cornfield trying to do the right thing by this—” She zeroed in on the clawing bundle of black fur. “Fluff muffin.” With a hand on her hip and one finger-wagging, she launched in. “You’ve got another baby on the way, a husband who is hardly ever home, a house that’s falling about your ears, and a sick grandmother.” She jutted her jaw at the little eye peeking out from under my elbow. “You don’t need—that!”

I shrugged. “But it was in with the chickens—in the coop. Don’t you wonder if that was a sign…from God maybe?”

The roll of Janet’s eyes was positively eloquent. “God has got better things to do. Like, keep people—”

A long rolled “Helll-ooo” stopped us both.

Mrs. Blackstone trundled down the rocky drive and toodle-oooed. “Thought I heard voices. Just coming to check the mail—Al forgot yesterday.” She slapped her hands and chuckled as if her husband’s memory loss tickled her funny bone. “Not that there’s much to see—bills and ads and those obnoxious political adverts. Might as well tell me who to pray to.”

The kitten had had quite enough—and since I had tightened my grip—she probably wanted to breathe as well. The scratch she offered in return, set her free and let loose a naughty word on my part. I would’ve clamped my hand over my mouth, but I was too busy clamping my hand over the long bleeding tear in my forearm.

Janet merely shook her —at the scratch, the freed cat, or my poor literary choices, I didn’t know, and at that moment, I didn’t care.

Mrs. Blackstone, on the other hand, knew a thing or two about mercy and infections. “Oh, let me take you right in and put something on that. It’ll swell up quick if you don’t.” She peered around. “Was that the black kitten that went missing couple days ago?”

Thunder rumbled in the distance.

I let myself be tugged along like the child I wasn’t and glanced at my neighbor. “Was that your kitten?”

“Oh, got so many; I lose count. New litters year round it seems. Some live, some die, some move on…” She led me up the back steps into a warm kitchen. A stew pot simmered on the stove. “Just sit and make—” She glanced at Janet as if she had noticed her for the first time. “Oh, hi, Jan.” She waved to a back room. “Back in a sec.”

Janet pulled out a chair and plunked down as if she had been the one been wrestling a miniature tiger.

I toed a stool forward—my good hand being occupied, trying to stem the flow of blood, which I was certain would cascade down my arm if I took my hand away. I perched on the edge.

“See, I told you. It never was your responsibility in the first place.”

I leaned in and, I’ll admit, my whisper wasn’t gentle. “As it turns out, if we’d left it alone, it probably would’ve wandered home on its own.”

“Not in a million years. You’d have babied it—like you baby everything. Why, you would’ve taken it in at night and fed it leftover hamburger.”

“That’s a crime?”

“How many hours sleep did you get last night?”

“What on God’s green earth does that have to do with—?”

“Here we are.” Mrs. Blackstone waved a vial of dark liquid, a cotton ball, and a package of Band-Aids. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

I sniffed when she unscrewed the top. It smelled faintly familiar but unlike any medicine, I’d ever come across. “What’s that?”

“Oh, a homemade remedy my mama taught me.”

She dabbed the cotton ball in the liquid, motioned for my arm, and grinned.

I was fairly sure I’d make a mess of her floor if I let go of my arm, but her cotton ball commanded compliance, so I flung caution to the wind and extended my damaged limb. You can imagine my surprise when I saw not a flood of leaking corpuscles but rather a long swelling red mark.

As she ran the ointment-soaked swab down my arm, I suddenly knew with blinding certainty the main ingredient in her mama’s home remedy. I gritted my teeth against a fresh onslaught of naughty words. “Is that—apple cider vinegar—by—any—chance?”

“Certainly. Kills germs on contact.”

It was certainly killing something. I hoped not my will to live.

For the first time, Janet seemed to actually feel something for me other than contempt. She winced and patted the hand I clenched in my lap.

As we sauntered back up the road toward my farmhouse, she nudged me in the ribs again. “Listen. I was just trying to make a point. I didn’t expect you to get martyred by an old family cure-all.”

I stopped and closed my eyes. Janet was right. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before…or the night before that…or the night… But it didn’t matter. It was my life. I could sacrifice myself in pieces and parts if I chose.

Janet sniffed.

Good Heavens! She couldn’t be…crying… My eyes snapped open.

No, she wasn’t crying—exactly. Just sad. And looked about as tired as I felt.

“I know you’re worried, Jan. But I’m fine. I like extending myself. I love babies and husbands who work too hard…and even killer fluff muffins that show up in my chicken coop.”

Janet considered me through narrowed eyes. “You’re giving me an inferiority complex.”

“Am not.”

Janet climbed the front lawn and headed for the porch steps. “Well, when you collapse from exhaustion—you know who you can rely on help you out.”

I sauntered along behind, checking for Bob’s truck in the driveway. He was still home. Good. The back door hinge was loose. I wrapped my arm around Janet and hugged her and then winced at the still searing burn in my arm. “You’re on my speed dial.”

She snorted and waved to the front door. There, sitting as pretty as a picture, sat the black kitten.

I looked at Janet, and Janet looked at me. The kitten didn’t seem to care when Jan picked it up and started down the road.

But I did. And I’ll always know.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Know What I’m Saying?

I went to a presentation on Human Trafficking recently and walked away both shaken and encouraged. I was shaken by the reality of slavery in our midst, but I was also comforted by the fact that there are strong, intelligent, well-organized human beings doing incredible work to end this evil practice and assist victims into new and better lives.

As I pondered the real-world reality of good and evil, I thought about the cycle of brokenness that allows such a thing as slavery to exist in the first place. It isn’t simply about evil people doing evil things. It’s also about good people not doing good things.

With the recent elections, there was a frenzy of bloggers, tweeters, and social media experts on the rampage insisting that So & So would be the best person for our government and that Such and Such leadership, party, affiliation, group-think, would lead our country into a new era of prosperity. Or at least keep us from killing ourselves…or each other. We have a tendency to look for someone to fix our world.

As a child, I honestly believed that my mom knew everything. Frankly, I needed her to know everything. Being a kid, I certainly couldn’t provide for myself. But I quickly learned that she had her limitations. Way too soon, I had to grow up.

As a parent, I was shocked to discover that my kids wanted me to define everything in very black and white terms. “Who is the good guy, mom? Who is the bad guy?” Beware the wrath of a confused kid! They need clear, defined answers. So I did the best I could. Fudged on the details sometimes. But children really want you to know the right answers so that mom can fix all the world’s problems. Somebody had better!

But when kids get older, they repeat the human disillusionment cycle and discover that mom doesn’t know everything. They begin to wonder if mom knows anything at all. I began to wonder too.

Is it possible that the human race is going through a similar experience with God? We thought He knew everything and defined our world in very black and white terms. Then we grew up…or at least grew more advanced. Sometimes, we wonder if God knows anything at all. We look at our world and cringe at rampant evil, grieve when innocent people are caught in one horror or another, and struggle with the muddles we humans get into as we veer between polar opposites.

My mom passed away years ago, and my kids no longer look to me for all the answers. But God remains. Creator of the Universe. Creator of humanity. Author of Free Will. I don’t look to a “green” candidate to steward my planet. I don’t ask a politician to help a pregnant woman with an unwanted baby. I hardly expect my political leaders to visit the elderly. Civil laws are passed when the human laws embedded in the soul are broken or ignored.

We need laws like we need parents, to shepherd us through our infancy, our broken reality, to give us direction and proper understanding…so that we don’t kill ourselves. But one day—maybe—we’ll grow up and stop asking mom to fix our world. We’ll fix it ourselves.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

This Side of the Divide

I’m sitting in a parking lot waiting for my daughter to come out of her Catechism class and my sons to finish their Altar Boy training session. It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been a long week. World-weariness troubles my soul.

You too?

I can almost hear your sigh.

It seems that fresh scandals break every week: religious, political, and culture wars lash out at every level of society.

With the disheartening reality of broken humanity and the faithful losing their faith, it seems odd to be joining more church-related activities these days. According to current trends, I should be pulling away disgusted. Isolated. Disillusioned.

But I have the ridiculous habit of reading history books. And if you pay attention to the past, certain things stand out as trends throughout the ever-lengthening ages. Broken humanity is one of them. Apparently, it’s not a new trend at all.

I don’t teach my children religion to save them from grief or to give them all the right answers. I teach them the Catholic faith because it is a healing hope in a world full of grieving hearts.

Jesus certainly knew a thing or two about sin-laden people, confused mindsets, weak wills, and pierced hearts. His mom must have known it too. After the religious authorities of her day murdered her innocent son using the laws of the established church to do so, she still followed the traditions of her faith and waited until after the Sabbath to anoint his body. The body that wasn’t there. The body that rose beyond all reason and grief.

Faith is a lot like hope. It isn’t reasonable. It doesn’t protect itself at all costs. Love embraces both the faithful and the despairing, strengthens the will, holds up exhausted arms, and heals even the most mortally pierced heart.

The evening bells are ringing…a haunting sound on a late autumn evening. The bells toll for us all. Time passes and each of us is called. Every day. To the voice of grief and desperation. To the clarion call of change. To the herald of a new day. To the whisper of a spirit that has been—is now—and always will be.

I can’t define or even defend God. That’s His job.

I just love Him. Passionately. Faithfully. And with a renewed soul.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

No Guts No Glory

So there I was, getting into my car on the wrong side. The passenger side. One of my sons slid behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, and pulled onto our country road. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. Try settling inside a two-ton metal box and give a teen the controls and see how you feel. Speed praying becomes second nature. Trust me.

At the time, I was a recent widow and facing more unknowns than Captain Kirk in one of Star Trek’s newest uncharted galaxies. Teaching my two sons to drive was just one more in a long, snaky line of impossible tasks.

It wasn’t until the end of their driving classes, around about early spring, that one of my boys informed me of my late husband’s pronouncement every time he got in the car with them. He’d say, “No guts, no glory.” Then he’d promptly fall asleep and let the boys handle the driving.

I nearly choked. If John had been alive, I might have choked him.

But as the season rotated on their usual sublime schedule and the boys passed their drivers’ tests and became excellent drivers, I learned how to fix mechanical thingamajigs without the use of duck tape, and life rolled on into full summer glory full of birdsong, I realized something rather important.

John was right.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

In Two Words

Professor Lana Bentley leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. Her gaze rolled over the eighteen-year-old woman, sitting ramrod straight before her. She practically glowed with her brightest smile. “So, Irma, are you excited about your first year of college?”

Irma slumped forward, her hands clasping and unclasping convulsively, like sea creatures swishing through the deep. Her grey eyes peered through thick glasses and heavy makeup, imploring the fountain of wisdom behind the desk. “I don’t know. I think I am. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to this my whole life. Always wanted to go to college, ever since I first learned there was such a thing.”

A twinge of alarm spread through Professor Bentley. “How old would that have been?”

“Four…maybe five.” Irma met Professor Bentley’s gaze. “My dad’s a janitor, and he got a job at a university. He took us to see where he worked. And—” Irma blushed. “It was love at first sight.”

Heat crept up Professor Bentley’s face. “Well, that’s the best of news.” She beamed again. She felt proud of her ability to put others at ease. Beaming was one of her specialties.

Irma frowned; her hands squeezed so tight her knuckles turned white.

Professor Bentley considered the girl’s hands. “But it appears that you’re still a little anxious. Is there something bothering you? Worried about your classes or—?”

Irma swallowed a gulp of air, a drowning victim at the end of her strength. “It’s just that I’m so afraid.”

Sitting up straight, Professor Bentley tapped her computer keyboard and pulled up Irma’s file. After scanning the record, she glanced at the girl before her. “Your grades and scores are excellent. You’ve already won awards in your chosen field of study, and your recommendations are brilliant.” She pursed her lips and tapped her fingers together, a serious professional doing her duty. “You have nothing to be afraid of. You’ll do fine.”

Irma shot from her chair and twirled around behind, gripping the back for dear life. “I’m not afraid of the work. I know I can get good grades.”

Professor Bentley snatched a glance at her watch. She stood and stepped away from her desk. “I have a class in fifteen minutes but walk with me across campus. She swung a satchel over her shoulder. “I really want to help—I’m just—”

Irma opened the door and let the professor pass through. Once outside crossing over the long shadows of an August afternoon, the student tromped alongside her mentor, her shoulders drooping and her hair hanging like a curtain across her face.

A young man jogged by and waved.

Irma averted her eyes.

Professor Bentley smiled, stopped, and laid a gentle hand on Irma’s shoulder. “You’re worried about making friends…men friends even?”

Irma’s eyes flickered to the sky. “Yes…and no. I make friends easy enough. Everyone likes the shy, smart girl who shares her notes.”

Professor Bentley choked, her eyes widening. She started forward again, her heels clicking on the tidy cement walkway. Autumn leaves whirled in a sudden breeze.

Quickening her pace, Irma kept up. “It’s just that I’ve dreamed about this for so long, it’s like the best fantasy ever…and I don’t want it to end.”

Stopping before the science building, Professor Bentley felt a chill run through her veins. “But, Irma, reality is better than fantasy.”

Irma shoved her glasses up the bridge of her nose and peered into the eyes of wisdom. “Is it?”

Professor Bentley blinked at the tears starting in her eyes. “Oh, my dear. You just told me the saddest story I ever heard—in two words.”

~~~

That evening as Lana sat ensconced in the crook of her husband’s arm, she laid her head on his chest and sighed.

George pulled off his glasses and laid them on the coffee table. “You want to tell me?” He titled his head and peered at her lifted gaze.

Lana shook her head, her gaze dropping. “I met a new student today, a friendly mentoring session. You know.”

“You’ve done hundreds. Best there is.” A smile quirked at the corner of his mouth, his eyes sparkling.

“I always thought so. But today—I was the one mentored. The student taught the teacher.”

“What on earth could an eighteen-year-old freshman teach you?”

Lana slapped her forehead and tugged her fingers through her hair. “What it feels like to be eighteen—a dreamer with nothing but dreams to hang on to.”

Georgios shrugged. “You’ve handled that before.”

“Yes, and I always challenged it. I always knew best. I—” She pulled away and sat up, her hands clasping in an attitude of prayer. “I just realized—I don’t remember what it’s like to be a freshman, to be young, to be scared, to be idealistic.” She swallowed and met her husband’s frank stare. “From the first moment I saw her, I had this girl pegged from her thick glasses down to her skinny jeans. But, really, I have no idea what she dreams of. And if perhaps her dreams are better than the reality I’m offering.”

George shifted to the edge of the couch, positioned for a launch. He glanced at the kitchen counter with an array of drinks lined in neat order. “Dreams die in the light of day.”

“But somewhere, somehow, isn’t their room for a both—a dream to guide and reality to rule?”

Standing, George peered down at his wife, a frown forming between his eyes. “Dreams don’t pay bills. You’ve told me that a million times.”

Lana stood and sauntered to the bay window. She stared at the black frame, peering into darkness. “That’s true. But when Irma told me she was afraid of reality, she scared me and made me sad.” She turned and peered at her husband, her own eyes imploring.

George sauntered toward the kitchen. “You don’t kill these kids’ dreams. Reality does.”

“Perhaps that’s why I feel so bad. I’ve known that all along.” Lana turned and faced her husband’s departing figure. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “When I dismissed her dreams, I dismissed the girl…and perhaps…a reality that might have been.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

My Kind of Madness

Over time, I’ve become convinced that madness must run in the family. How else can I explain my insane desire to “live simply” which, by necessity, involves all sorts of discomforts from merely annoying insects to knockdown drag-out encounters with the wild side of creation? Whoever said nature was innocent, never met nature up-close and personal.

My husband and I both grew up in cities. He in Los Angeles, I in Milwaukee. We both traveled and knew “something of the world” before we met and married. Thankfully, we both came to the conclusion that we wanted to raise our kids in the country. Images of blissful encounters with nature and the soul-steadying reality of hard work encouraged us to forge ahead with what would become a lot more intense experience than we could have ever realized.

But that was good. Otherwise, we would’ve never done it. God isn’t stupid when He doesn’t color in all the details. Oh, no.

Luckily, John was very strong and loved nature. He was soon dubbed “Our Amish Paul Bunyan” by the homeschooling dads. Good thing because I was rather busy having babies. Eight babies. Yes. One at a time.

During those years, we learned to raise laying hens for eggs, meat birds for our winter chicken supply, maintain a humongous garden, and raise bees and gather the honey. Each spring, John collected sap from the maple trees and made maple syrup. That was fun. Kids around a huge cauldron over an open fire in the backyard stirring…and stirring…and stirring. And then pancakes. Life was good.

We got a cow and learned to milk it. Or rather my eldest daughter did. I hid with the chickens. But I did learn to make cheese. Sort of. Okay, my homemade bread was eatable, though.

We are the kind of people who drive other people nuts. We don’t use air conditioning—unless you have a heart condition or are with social services. We actually like to recycle. All the kids work. Or else. Pretty much everyone collapses on Sunday. No need for a “Though shalt rest” commandment. God knows what He’s doing.

When John was diagnosed with Leukemia, our youngest was only seven months. There was no way I could do everything. So I didn’t. I simply did what I could. The kids did what they could. John did what he could—till he couldn’t do anything. But those joint efforts—raising the chickens, milking the cow, making cheese (sort of), gardening—they did a lot to keep the rhythm of our lives going even when our hearts were skipping beats.

John died in December 2013, and since then, the kids and I have struggled to maintain the core of our little natural world. I can’t really call it a farm. We have loosey-goosy hens that lay eggs in the doghouse, meat birds that die without asking, and bees we watch but do not follow, a middle-sized garden, fruit trees, nut trees, and more dogs and cats than I care to count. Don’t ask about the possums and assorted critters that like to visit. We do chat on occasion. I tell them to go home. They ignore me.

When things get tough and I’m ready to give up on one more thing, I remember why John and I started this foolishness in the first place. There is something sublime about working hard and living according to your conscience. Nature isn’t always easy, but in the fruits, vegetables, nuts, critters, weather, and the land itself, we see daily facets of God’s abundant imagination.

We learn balance and integrity while working with God’s created world. Jesus spoke in nature parables all the time. We are stewards. If we’re not ever vigilant, weeds will destroy our garden.

There’s nothing quite like the blessings of hard physical labor, homemade bread and strawberry jam. It isn’t the amount of land worked, the number of chickens raised, the variety of critters encountered. It’s the interaction. The noticing…the caring…the faithfulness needed to keep everyone alive. We are known by our fruit.

It’s my kind of madness.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00