Zuri, wearing a course tunic over the simplest remnant of his armor paced along a worn path, the sun setting behind a distant, emerald-green hill.
With a flash, Teal appeared before him in a peasant’s outfit.
“There you are. I was afraid you’d have to wait till morning to see.”
Smirking, Teal bowed low. “Hello, Zuri. So glad we meet again.”
“None of that, now. We haven’t time. I want you to see this family! They’re magnificent and, to top it off, there’s been a murder. Some folks are running about insisting that Melchior’s son did it, but I hardly think so. Not the warrior type, if you know what I mean. I’m thinking it was the husband—though I have no—”
Teal faltered, his shape growing hazy. “By the Divide, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Zuri grabbed Teal’s arm and tugged him down the path. When they rounded a bend, a cottage stood before them, resplendent in evening hues.
“That’s Melchior’s place. He has a bunch of children, servants, and even a slave or two, yet he manages to keep his property intact and his head attached. In these parts, that’s something to be proud of.” He squinted in the failing light. “You all right? You look a bit…fuzzy.”
Teal lifted his hand and nodded. “Just been busy.”
Zuri glanced around. “Where’s Cerulean?”
“He’s taking care of Sterling. With strict orders to hurry him along, with or without Mauve.”
Teal rolled his shoulders. “His newest obsession.”
“You can say—”
A Bhuaci chime sounded.
Zuri tapped his chest and a holographic image of a Cresta with stringy yellow cilia drizzling from his head and dressed in a dark green bio-suit with matching boots appeared before them.
“Tarragon reporting for duty.”
Leaning toward Teal, Zuri dropped his voice low. “Ark’s son. Remember the pod…”
Teal nodded. He focused his gaze on the Cresta. “Thank you for being so prompt. But I thought we were going to meet here at—” He glanced at Zuri.
Tarragon waved a tentacle. “I wanted assure myself that someone would be there to greet me. I am still on board my ship, but I’ll shuttle down shortly.” He eyed Zuri. “If you’ll confirm the coordinates?”
Suppressing annoyance, Zuri pulled a datapad from his sleeve and tapped in the information. “Just be sure to stay out of sight. Your aircraft had better be native sensitive.”
“Of course. The Cresta are experts of disguise.”
Zuri chuckled. “Ark was anything but!” Realizing his mistake, a flush warmed his cheeks. “Sorry. No disrespect. I greatly valued Ark.”
Tarragon shrugged. “I hardly knew him.” With a smart salute, he signed off. The hologram evaporated.
Zuri slapped his face. “Oh, that went well, don’t you think?”
Looking haggard, Teal sighed. “He’s a hard one to figure. I’ve asked about him through the years, but he never responded, and Ark had little to offer. I thought he’d be at Ark’s passing-on ceremony, but he never showed. His mother did, though. Gave me an earful. More than I really wanted to know about Cresta—”
The pounding of horses’ hooves sent Zuri scurrying to a hedge row.
Teal blinked away and then reappeared at his side. “We’d better move further off. We don’t want Tarragon showing up in the middle of a family dispute.”
“Going to be a blinking challenge to train someone new. And now we have Sterling and Mauve to deal with.”
Teal shrugged. “It could be worse. We could have the Mystery Race on our heels. At least we’re safe there.”
Zuri glanced at the starry sky, a sinking sensation enveloped him.
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.
“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…”
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.”
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.”
Chasm stood on the baked, pounded ground and stared at his shoes, profoundly aware that they were several sizes larger than the others lined up beside his. A cool breeze cascaded over his hot body. He could hear his mother’s words loud and clear, “Don’t get overheated, boyo, cause I can’t find any glaciers to cool you off this time of year.”
He forced his smile in check.
The kid next to him squirmed.
Chasm nudged him. “Don’t move, Oleg, or he’ll kill us.”
The boy heaved a strained, exasperated sigh.
Coach screamed, “Hey, you two! Give me five more!”
Oleg’s eyes widened with horror.
Chasm choked. “Wasn’t my fault!”
The twenty-eight boys held the line, observing in constrained silence as Chasm awkwardly led the smaller boy around the track, taking tiny steps to keep pace with his companion’s short strides.
Giggles broke the tense silence.
Coach, his arms crossed high over his barrel chest, stood on the sidelines grinning, his jaws masticating contraband chewing gum.
The blazing Luxonian sun seethed in a white sky, heat piercing through protective covering. Even the best eye protection was poor defense against the damaging rays.
A wonder more of us don’t go blind. Chasm wiped sweat off his brow as he jogged forward, his arms limp at his side. Three more…
Chasm reached out.
The boy fell limply in his arms.
“Drop him and finish your laps!” Clearly, coach enjoyed his work.
The watching boys froze, stiff as petrified rocks.
So many times, he’d come home burning with humiliation, a sorry excuse for a son, but his mother’s nudge combined with a healthy snort, always revived his drooping spirits. “Think you got it rough? Try being a giant woman! Then you’d know what rough looked like up close and personal. Giant guys are fine. But giant gals scare the hell out of most everybody, even Luxonian shape shifter-types. Lordy, they can morph into Ingoti Lava Lizards, but a seven-foot human woman sets ‘em giggling in weird ways.” Her black eyes flashed, and her ebony skin glistened as she jutted her chin, contempt oozing through every pour. Until a glint of humor discharged the poison. “Should thank their lucky suns I’m so good natured, or they might not be so powerful now.”
Chasm knew the story, oft repeated, how she managed to chase off a strange ship that landed in one of the busiest intersections of the capitol. No one knew who the aliens were or why they’d come. But the Luxonian crowd that gathered round had been profoundly grateful for Adah’s help. Unexpected as it was.
Being the only refugee over seven feet tall, many boys looked to him for help. Chasm didn’t mind, but he wasn’t sure what to do most of the time. He looked around for help.
Coach sauntered forward. Unlike most Luxonians, his attitude sparked with resentment at the outsiders. Even though the human refugees had originally come to Lux by invitation, coach narrowed his eyes at every specimen he met, especially the boys he forced out under the sun “to keep them fit and healthy” as his job description decreed.
Killing us with kindness.
Chasm gripped Oleg’s limp body tighter.
Rex, a lanky kid, not nearly Chasm’s size but with an outsized spirit that towered above the average stepped from the disciplined line. “We’re done here.”
Coach turned his full glare on Rex’s impassive, staring eyes. “You think so?”
“How about I make you all do ten more?”
Rex peered along the line of watching boys.
Everyone knew that they lived at the mercy of their hosts—Luxonians who had accepted the burden of caring for a dying race of beings—but resentment had elbowed its way in over the years, making humans not so welcome.
Chasm’s heart clenched as his gaze darted from Rex to Oleg’s reviving form.
Oleg shook himself free and stood on shaky legs. He blinked as he stared at the coach. “Think you can kill me?”
Coach’s amused glance spoke volumes.
Rex waved at the line of boys ahead with a formal bow. “He can try. But we don’t have to let him.” He sauntered off the track.
The line wavered, eyes following but feet still.
Oleg gripped Chasm’s arm. “Let’s go.” He strode after Rex, panting but determined.
As the sound of footsteps padded after them, Chasm’s heart swelled. No matter his size, he finally filled his shoes. No glaciers needed.
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.
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.
Every now and again, an opportunity strolls up and shakes my hand. Over the years, my response has changed from over-exuberant my-life will-now-be-so-much-better fantasy to a take-it-as-it-comes-live-in-the-moment reality, saving me a great deal of disappointment and offering me a whole new take on life.
A few weeks ago, Dick emailed and asked if I wanted to be on their show. The old me would’ve read the title and shied away. The new me investigated, listened to a podcast, and realized that with their down-to-earth sense of humor, I might have some fun. So I took a chance and, on Sunday, I wrote a short story from their prompt, got online, chatted with them about science fiction characters, books, the writing process, and even read Jay’s story out loud. Good golly, I did have fun!
I didn’t spend a minute beforehand trying to imagine what the process was going to look like. I didn’t spend quality brain space on what might be, should be, or futuristic could be. What a relief.
The show should air next Monday, and I have no idea what it will sound like, but I’m confident that the final product will reflect nothing less than fellow human beings’ passion for a good story, no matter what the title.
During the week, an online friend, Anne DeSantis, invited me to create a podcast describing God’s mercy in my life. Once again, the old me would’ve balked at the whole idea of creating my own audible podcast. The new me figured that if I could learn how to text without causing inter-planetary disturbances, I could learn this without risking human extinction. I did manage to record my story, and Smart Catholicshttps://smartcatholics.com/now have an A. K. Frailey podcast on their roster.
So many people have written to me from various places and online sources that I can’t possibly keep track. I’m happy to read a book, reflect on a story, answer a question, or simply wish someone a good day. The old me would try to keep records, arrange future chats, attempt to sell my books, or micro-manage every situation. Not possible these days. And that’s been a blessing.
One memorable evening, years ago, I was eating dinner with my husband at a diner on the way home from visiting my Dad in Kansas. We had five young kids at the time, but they were well behaved. (The food stayed on the plates anyway.) A lady stopped by on her way out and congratulated us on our parenting skills. My husband practically glowed. Though, what I remember most was her parting comment, “I don’t know how you do it. I simply don’t have that much love to spare.”
I’ve thought about that comment through the years. Personally, I believe that love and opportunities have a great deal in common. Neither likes to be over-managed or stuffed into a box. The old me managed every detail and loved as safely as possible. The new me understands the difference between organization and a straight jacket. The old me thought I knew what the future held. The new me laughs a lot more.
In fact, I’d say that when an opportunity approaches these days, I don’t size it up with a critical eye. I just take its hand and love it.
Rebah stared—turning her head as far back as it would go—at the crow perched on an old wooden post in front of rows of golden corn stalks, as she drove no less than sixty on the rural Illinois road.
She should’ve stopped. By the time she made up her mind and looked in the rearview mirror, the proud plumage was flying high across the cornfield into the bean field.
Where’re you going?
It couldn’t hear her and wouldn’t care to answer if it did. Rebah only wanted to stare at it long enough to imbibe the magical power it held—the mystical passion embodied in a carefree moment.
She glanced at her handbag leaning forlornly on the passenger seat, the strap folded across the open pocket that held the keys to her current existence—her cell phone and her to-do list.
Jed, she repeated. Jed. Not Jeb or Jacob. It’s Jed. She tried to picture the man her husband told her owned the shop.
“Tall, lanky, elderly guy with gray hair.”
Gee, thanks, Honey. Got it now.
Rebah stretched her mind back. Had Brad ever used figurative language? Did he ever describe a person as more than a combination of physical attributes? It was one of the things she’d loved about him—his honest, clear thinking. Never sarcastic like her dad or manipulative like her sister. Just a straightforward kind of man.
Three plump blackbirds stood at odd angles to each other on the road ahead. Apparently, they weren’t in a hurry, but she was. As her car zoomed up to the twenty-yard mark, they flapped into the blue September sky, majestic and unperturbed. “We’re heading on anyway, Lady. Don’t think for a second that you altered our plans.”
She wanted to laugh. Giggle. A smirk would do. But she had to find Jed’s countryside shop and buy a part for the mower. It was an old mower and needed an old part, preferably one that worked. It was all Greek to her. Mowers belonged in the same category as electricity and nuclear fusion.
A right on Acorn Road, two streets down, and on the left, 119 E. Acorn Rd. a workshop appeared as if by magic. A wooden structure built back and to the left of a cottage that belonged in a land of “far away and long ago.” Charming hardly covered it.
The rock driveway lined with late-season flowers curved around the back of the shop. She parked, rolled down the window, and imbibed.
The porch cozied over two garden beds run riot with daisies, asters, chrysanthemums, and coneflowers. Cornstalks tied to the railings decorated the steps as a scarecrow stood watch, both his smile and his pitchfork ready for service. Hanging plants perked up the mellow season with dashes of red and green, while ceramic squirrels scampered down the steps, leading to a maple tree just breaking into full autumn glory.
Rebah climbed out of her car and exhaled. “Good God in heaven!”
“Yeah, I’d say that’s about right.”
The man’s deep voice followed by a light chuckle turned Rebah’s gaze.
Coming from the dim interior of the shop, ambled a man exactly as her husband described. Except her husband had failed to mention the bulbous nose, oversized ears, long grey beard, and the sweetest eyes she had ever delved.
“What can I do for you?”
Rebah wondered if she was in love. She wanted to live in this little house, sit on a bench, watch this gentle giant work in his shop, and absorb the conviviality that emanated from the air in this enchanted spot on Acorn Road.
She spluttered, “Oh, yes, actually, my-uh, husband sent me over to get a part. George. My husband. He needs something you have.”
She wasn’t sure if that last part was a question or a statement of fact, but she prayed Jed was a mind reader since she could no longer rely on the power of speech.
“George? Oh, yes!” Jed grinned impishly as befitted the gnome-spirit he represented. “I have the part right here in my shop. I was just cleaning it a bit. They get a mite dusty sitting on the shelf, don’t you know.”
A howl of laughter fought earnestly with a sob of despair. By all the saints, Rebah knew about dust! Dust bunnies and spider webs had beaten her into submission long ago. Who on earth cleaned an engine part? A pitiful squeak was the best she could manage as the battle ended in a draw.
“Well, come on in and have a cup of something while you wait. I like a little spiced cider as the evening draws close. Perks a fellow up after a long day.” He ambled back into the shop, turning a switch on the wall just inside the doorway.
Yellow lamplight flooded the room, conjuring images of children’s fairytale books. Cherry stained shelves lined the walls, filled with an impossible variety of projects. Small engine parts, kitchen essentials—toasters and mixers, a variety of wall clocks, one small organ, two violins, and, of course, an assortment of broken toys stood, sat, or leaned in repose for their appointment with Jed’s dexterous fingers.
Rebah tried to shake herself into conscious reality. “So, you’re a fixer? A repair guy?” Oh heck, that seemed as inadequate as calling a CIA agent a sleuth.
After pouring a fresh cup of cider into a mug from a dark brown jug and setting it within easy reach, Jed ran a cloth lovingly over the metal part that—in Rebah’s opinion—hardly deserved the attention.
She sipped the cider, warmth tingling all over. Her eyes strayed to the mower part. She frowned. It was just metal, after all. It would go in a machine, get dirty again, and no one would care in the least.
“I fix those things that I can. Mostly, I live life.”
A lump formed in Rebah’s throat. She blinked.
Two crows and three blackbirds hopped up to the open doorway, their bright eyes keeping a careful watch on Rebah.
Jed laughed. He laid the metal part on his workbench, scooped an old can into a plump bag hanging on the wall, then carried the full container of seeds to the doorway. He scattered supper to the hungry throng and watched them in serene joy.
Rebah watched his every move as absorbed as it was the finale of her favorite primetime drama. “God, I want what you’ve got.”
It felt like cold water in the face when Rebah realized that she had said the words out loud.
“Eh?” Jed returned to his machine part. He wrapped it in a clean cloth and laid it at the bottom of a paper bag. He folded the bag neatly and handed it to Rebah.
She slurped the rest of her drink, letting the warm tingly feeling bring a smile to her face, covering her confusion. Perhaps he hadn’t heard. “How much do I owe you?”
“Ten ought to cover it. It’s a recycled part and didn’t need much mending.”
She ran to her car, dropped the bag on the back seat, shuffled through her purse, found two fives, scurried back, and met Jed in front of his porch steps. She handed him the money. A longing nearly broke her heart. “I wish my place looked like this. More, I wish I felt like…this…place.”
To Rebah’s astonishment, Jed smiled.
“Yeah. That’s how I was when I first came here. I’d been in the army for more years than I can remember, fought people I didn’t want to fight, lost family to drugs and alcohol, though my youngest sister died of cancer last year. But you know, the old woman who owned this place said that it just needed tender care. If I’d give it that and do every task with gentle love, I’d be repaid in full.” Jed tapped the railing. “By golly, she wasn’t off the mark.”
Tears filled Rebah’s eyes. “You don’t mean that my place could look like this?”
“No. This place belongs here on Acorn Road. But the beauty I wake up to every day? Why, that belongs everywhere that’ll allow it in.”
When Rebah drove up to her short straight driveway, her husband, George stood on their overgrown lawn, grinning.
She grinned back. “I’ve got the part, and I’ll get dinner on in a minute, Love.”
When a crow flapped overhead, she knew whom she’d invite to dinner next.
Being the glorious season of scarlet leaves, burnt orange pumpkins, tawny grass, caterpillars seeking the perfect abode to wrap themselves in a snug cocoon for the winter, geese flying low honking encouragement to their fellow travelers, (Though conceivably, they could be telling the last in line, “Hurry up, Bub, or you’ll get left behind!”) and the annual apple harvest for the winter’s supply of apple sauce, apple juice, and apple pie, autumn gets a lot of attention.
Even the bees get excited, hurrying hither and yon, with the inner awareness that the summer supply of nectar is about to crash in a seasonal apocalypse. There literally is nothing left for bees to do but huddle up and survive the coming freeze of all that is good and holy in their universe.
Birds adapt with sensible charm. Some fly off, like the aforementioned geese, honking their goodbyes as if to taunt the fools below. They know cold and snow are coming without a clue that humans and their appointed pets and other citizens of the animal kingdom, including a few feathered friends, have adaptions at the ready.
Critters, flowers, twigs, and trees realize that the game’s up, and the world of sunshine and plenty is about to collapse. They do what they must to either die with dignity or huddle into a catatonic “I’ll come back when things are better” attitude.
I know perfectly well that my son is gunning the mower ready to take down the last of the straggly garden, the porch flowers bend in limp acquiescence to shorter, colder days, the pool must be drained and excused from duty for the next six months, and that fun shorts and t-shirts will soon to be ridiculously inappropriate, but, still, I’m pleased about the seasonal change of guard.
It’s not because I’m skipping pages in the Farmers Almanac, imagining next spring. It’s not because bundling on layers of clothes and scrunching up close to my bedroom heater in hopes of maintaining feeling in my fingers excites my survival instinct, or that a daily tussle between battling the north wind or staying indoors until I resemble one of Count Dracula’s wives amuses my inner drama queen.
It’s because I’ve been endowed with a fairy-like fancy—I love autumn. I enjoy the slow decay of grass stems, the crumbling of the garden’s glory, sweeping grey clouds hovering with a threat of rain, chilly mornings ordering me to tug on long pants and a heavy sweater, bracing myself with stinging cheeks against a biting frost, the perfect rhythmic reality of change involving loss and endurance.
I’ve never had a relationship’s springtime last more than a few months. At some point, a misunderstanding sneaks in like a cold wind, or a different opinion edges it’s way to the surface, crumbling the green garden of interpersonal contentment. Culturally, nationally, historically—anyway I want to view my world—spring and summer never last. God, in His wisdom, prepared a place in me not only to accept the inevitable challenge of change, loss, exasperation, and suffering but to welcome the fullness of the natural life cycle. To accept that which I cannot change through the grace of a soul in love with more than what the birds know, the bees expect, and the decaying plants offer.
I am content at the sight of scarlet leaves and a well-stocked woodpile. I know my own autumn days draw near, and that thought should haunt me. But it doesn’t. My soul rejoices in the spirit of endurance and the welcome dawn of each new day, no matter how cold winter might get.
True light, beauty, and the joy of life emanate from inside—making every season glorious.
One day I shared with my university professor father the name of a religious text I was using in my homeschool, and my dad snorted in disgust. “Use books with real material, for God’s sake!”
The I-couldn’t-shoot-through-it-with-a-laser-gun irony was not lost on me.
After all, every choice I made in my homeschooling environment reflected what I focused on vs. what I left out. Could I be faith-based and still be “real?”
I believe so.
The first question I had to conquer—What do I mean by faith-based?
I assumed that meant religious material. A Catholic textbook. A Christine online resource. But then I had to consider all the other elements in my life that take a great deal of faith. After all, I can’t check every resource, follow up on every university seminar and published medical report, read every commentary, click on every supporting link, or completely understand most of what makes the world go around.
Does the study of one or a cross-section of religions fall under faith-based? If so, researching and reporting on the historical significance of Judaism, the Old Testament timeline and stories, the parables of Jesus, the Catholic Church’s rise to power, the Reformation, the history of Islam, Buddhism, or any number of other religions would be not just valid, but necessary components of any well-rounded curriculum.
But can anyone tell a story of faith accurately without faith?
Just the facts, ma’am.
If only it were that easy.
As I contemplate my computer, and that I haven’t a clue how it really works, the electrical signals and engineering genius that power my stove and refrigerator, radio waves undulating across the planet, to say nothing of all those powerhouse cell phones, I realize that I take almost every modern convenience on faith.
Educators and scientists insist that facts are repeatable and verifiable. But that’s not what tries my faith. I don’t question that my light switch works or that radio waves travel, or that computers compute. I simply don’t know how it all works and the repercussions each tool has on the human race.
Getting down to the basics, on a micro level, we are astonished every day at new discoveries. Rise to the macro level, and lo and behold; we are again amazed and dumbfounded by the wider universe.
Science and faith are different, but they are not polar opposites. There has to be some reason in faith and some faith in reason.
And it all comes down to free will.
Yes, siree, bob, that ol’ trusted and true bit of reality that everyone likes to question. Hence our active judicial system.
Ultimately, we decide what we believe.
Or we don’t. Then we do really confusing things like calling ourselves Catholic but insist that teachings, traditions, and sacramental graces need to change to match a modern set of credentials. Or we demand that our kids obey us without giving them any other reason than “because I say so.” Or we conclude that nothing much matters, and we’ll just be good because we feel that way. Unfortunately one person’s good might include drinking heavily and driving on the wrong side of the orange line.
I have spent a lot of time trying to discern what I believe in my human journey. I haven’t come to a whole lot of conclusions, but I have come to some. And these I hold dear. I live my faith with every breath of my body. When I deviate from my accepted creed, I’m not only uncomfortable, I am beside myself—untethered and aimless.
I pass my beliefs along to my children with all the generosity of a mother’s love, knowing full well that they have to decide what they will accept or let fall to the side.
Personally, I do not believe a secular system truly exists, though I agree that as a pluralistic nation, we have to make the attempt to remain impartial in public office and positions. Though if anyone wants to argue that our legal system isn’t based on personal, human value statements, I would beg to differ. It just depends on who is writing to the laws, who is passing them, and who is ignoring them.
The gift for me in homeschooling is that—like when making dinner—I use healthy ingredients in the day’s plan. Not that kids don’t snack on the side or aren’t influenced by a myriad of goodies…or baddies. That happens no matter what curriculum is offered. But while they are young and defenseless, I want to give them what my years of experience have taught me are valuable skills, facts, intuitive insights, and understanding. I throw in a lot of love and compassion as well.
I am a Catholic for very good reasons, and my faith has sustained me beyond reason. Most probably because I love and accept it. In a world swirling with disunity, I’ll take my faith in light of reason, chat with my dad, teach my kids, and learn from every experience that God gives me.