Driving into town this morning, passing by the refurbished diner, the town hall—its door wide open to the Coffee and Gab Saturday regulars, a friend heading into the post office, and finally turning into the Glendale Cemetery to check on a recent inquiry about a gravesite, I considered a book my friend Anne DeSantis has written about “ministering to the marginalized.”
Anne and I chatted on the phone yesterday, a hot, humid Friday afternoon when my body wanted nothing more than a cold drink, a whirling fan, and a soft bed. Yet as I listened to her describe the reason for writing her book and her personal mission to be present to the marginalized, I considered—who are the marginalized in my world? And who am I to them?
As Anne describes it, the marginalized are not necessarily “poor people” but rather those individuals who have been left out, shoved aside, demoted to untouchable in our society’s unique caste system. Amazingly, a wealthy man as well as a beautiful woman could be marginalized if they are valued only for their wealth or beauty.
This week, one of my middle daughters asked if we could visit the Volunteer Fire Department here in Fillmore. I asked around, and we were able to stop by on Tuesday evening. We were given a tour of the place, a detailed description of their work, and shown their impressive equipment. Laura, my usually quiet kid, asked a number of questions. Knowing that she volunteers at the Lighthouse in Vandalia and serves in our church, I wasn’t surprised that she wanted to know more about the volunteer fire department. I was surprised when she wanted to try on their gear.
The firefighters seemed happy to answer every question and suit her up. I was impressed. Not only with their kindness in responding to her but in the joy that I felt in experiencing their sincere passion for a such a worthy cause. Though there are hospitals in nearby towns, we live in the rural countryside, so these volunteers are the first to arrive on a local scene and offer immediate assistance—be it to a health crisis, a brushfire, a car accident, a house fire, or other situation where someone calls for help.
I’m reminded of the people of ancient times who maintained lighthouses to keep ships safe at sea, assorted medics who have served well beyond official capacities, service men and women who have protected their country not only in battle but in rebuilding broken homes and lives after battles, first responders who have risked life and limb to rescue victims after a disaster—noble souls throughout all of human history, serving all over the world.
Like a Hobbit in one of Tolkien’s stories, I am not a warrior or a leader. I don’t fight Balrogs or draw national boundaries, but I do encounter human beings every day. Most days my struggle might involve nothing more than a laundry issue or what to put on the table for dinner, but the person who needs clean clothes or is hungry is as important as any before God.
In a world of everlasting crisis, where hate and anger join in mindless destruction, there are both wounded souls and quiet heroes. With the same twenty-four hours in a day and an unknown lifespan, we have opportunities before us. We are not all the same. None of us have the same skill sets, strength, intelligence, opportunities, passions, interests, wounds, or limitations.
“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.”
Once again, I have learned that being kind to others, offering my time and attention, opens doors and windows I would never have thought possible. Living in a small town, I don’t have the reach of writers who live in a metropolis. Though I also know, after growing up and working in big cities, that the illusion of being “connected” can be very discombobulating. Being alone in a crowd sort of reality.
So, when I do connect with someone, I make an effort to mean my words and not simply use others for my own ends. I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me…
I connected with a Catholic writer, model, and actress on LinkedIn, Anne DeSantis, and we ended up chatting on the phone, discovering in the process that we had a lot in common. We are both about the same age, homeschooled our kids, and have similar life visions. Her schedule is busy. My life is full. It was hard to connect except here and there. But we both made the effort, though sometimes that meant we had to reschedule our chats three or four times.
We understood our limitations and just kept trying. I’ve introduced her to friends of mine online. She has introduced me to friends of hers. Sometimes the connections work out. Sometimes things fizzle out. But that’s part of the process. Being open to what might happen. To the good that is possible.
She recently connected me to a journalist for The Hollywood Times. That led to an interview. Me? And The Hollywood Times? A very unlikely combination, indeed. But I have learned to deeply appreciate my writer-friend Anne, and our journalist friend Jules, and their heartfelt, enthusiastic love for great stories.
Life is an unfolding mystery that encourages beauty and goodness. I’ll never know what is around the bend or over the next rise. But open doors and windows call. Beckoning me forward.
Selma was freezing. As she rubbed her frozen fingers together, she stomped her booted feet on the floor and started humming a lively tune she used to sing to the boys when they were babies. Ach! It wasn’t helping. Dang ice storm, falling tree branches, and downed power lines!
“Mom, I’ve got to get to work. You know…keep the pipes from freezing and the food from thawing.”
Selma waved her son away with a nod. “You’re a one in a million, boy.”
Her son laughed as he headed out the door. “You know my motto—Take no excuses, give no excuses.” He glanced back with an impish grin. “Sides, Bradley is already there, and he’ll give me hell if I don’t show up.”
The light was fading and her hurricane lamps were just about out of juice. There wasn’t a chance in the Kingdom that she’d be able to get more light or heat before tomorrow. She fed the dogs the last of their Alpo—as yet unfrozen—and wandered around the lonely, dark house. Icy branches swayed from the gleaming trees and powdery snow blew ghost-like swirls along the ground.
Once back in the kitchen, she filled her icy mug with the dregs of her cold coffee and peered at a large bag of old newspapers in the corner. “Wish we had a fireplace, I’d make the biggest bon—” She blinked.
In the backyard, the brick-lined fire pit staunchly faced the bitter winds without concern. Selma bit her lip. She could barely feel her fingers or her toes. Ice was crusting around the edge of her cup.
Without further thought, she dragged on her heavy coat, snatched a bottle of kerosene and a pack of matches from the cabinet, and lugged the bag of old papers out the back door to the fire pit. She dumped the sack in the center, squeezed the remaining Kerosene on top, and managed to light one match, which she flicked into the dark mess.
She raced back into the house, got her mug and practically danced around the fire, turning around and around so as to warm her outsides and her insides and thaw her coffee in an orderly manner.
Selma froze, her cup held out to the licking fingers of the flames like a devotee making an oblation to a fire god. She glanced aside and forced a grin.
Her neighbor, Jason, a respectable man in his forties, stood facing her—his eyebrows up, his legs jiggling, and his hands tucked into his armpits. “You don’t usually have a cookout this time of the year.” He stuck out one finger. “What you trying to do?”
Selma straightened and held out her mug. “Thaw out my coffee.”
The man blinked and peered into Selma’s backyard. “That your power line laying on the ground?”
“Sure is. The tree decided to shed a few limbs before summer and the line got in the way.” She started turning again. “So I gotta do, what I gotta do to get a decent cuppa before I settle in to freeze for the night.”
Jason trotted forward and threw a wave in Sema’s direction. “You’re coming home with me for a decent cuppa. Joyce and the girls are playing Monopoly and killing their old man. I could use a good excuse to get out of jail.”
A tug of shyness tugged at Selma’s composure. “I don’t want to interrupt…I know how you value your family time.”
“Oh, hell, family time includes freezing neighbors, don’t it?”
As she entered the brightly lit and gloriously warm kitchen, Selma noted the clean counters, the colorful row of assorted coats hanging on wall pegs by the door, a sterling sink unencumbered by dirty dishes, and an empty coffee pot sitting by it’s lonesome on the edge of the counter.
Guilt washed over her. “You probably have everything set for tomorrow. I hate to—”
Like a cat batting a ball of string, Jason swiped the air. “Forget it. We’re a social family, as you know. Not a Friday goes by that we don’t have people over.”
“But this is Sunday.”
Jason nodded to the living room. “So? Jeanne picked Friday for our socials. I pick Sunday to rescue neighbors.” He shrugged. “Seems fair to me.”
Selma perched on the edge of a stool and peered into the living room. When Jeanne glanced up, Jason bellowed. “Her power’s out. I’m making a cup of coffee to thaw her hands so she doesn’t have to set the neighborhood on fire.”
Jeanne called back. “Sounds good. You’re still in jail as far as we’re concerned.”
Jason snorted. “Every man’s dream wife.”
Selma’s throat tightened as she watched Jason prepare the pot.
Clicking on the red button with a little flourish, he grinned. “Takes two minutes.” He pulled up a stool and leaned across the counter. “Your boys at work?”
Selma nodded, unable to speak.
Jason sighed. “They’re good kids. Hard working as all get-out. I like that. Don’t see that in most kids these days.” He swept his hand toward the living room. “Care to give any parting advice? My girls are a little…shall we say…”
With a quick glance over her shoulder and a rush of embarrassment burning her face, Selma cleared her throat. “Can’t give any real advice. My boys work hard cause they have to. Their dad cut out years ago, and I only work part-time. So if they want to eat and live in a decent place…” She shrugged.
“Where’s he now?”
“Dead. Suicide. A troubled man. Still, I loved him…once. He was the boys’ father.” She peered into her clasped, chilled hands. “Never made any sense to me.”
Jason returned to the coffee maker and tapped the pot as if he could make it work quicker. “Sorry. Shouldn’t have asked. I just wondered…”
“Nothing to be sorry about. Just…” The exhaustion of battling the cold and darkness swept over Selma. “You know, experience is a great teacher, but it doesn’t give a lot of answers. The thing with raising kids is that they got to see a connection between themselves and the world around ’em. You give them love and support, but they gotta know that they aren’t in control all the time. But still, they have to be responsible for their part.”
The rich aroma of coffee filled the room as the black liquid poured into the empty pot. A cheer rose from the living room and one of the girls giggled.
Jason’s smile wavered as he glanced from the living room back to Selma. “You want to spend the night here? We’ve got a perfectly good couch.” He poured a cup of steaming coffee and handed it to Selma.
Selma shook her head. “Naw. This is great. Thanks. But I’ve got to keep the water running to keep the pipes from freezing and check on the dogs and…you know. I want to be home when the boys get back.”
Jason nodded and poured himself a cup.
As Selma heard the boys bumble through the front door, down the cold hallway, and into their frozen beds late that night, she pictured the warm house next door. The clean kitchen. The kids playing with their mom. Jason and his gentle kindness.
Though the coffee had only warmed her for a bit, she knew as she settled into bed wearing five sweaters and two pairs of sweatpants that she would sleep well tonight. The bonfire had burned out quickly. The power company had promised to be their first stop in the morning, and her boys were safe and sound.
For the first time in months, she felt warm all over.
Standing outside the huge garage door, Madge fumbled with her keys and then handed them over to the serviceman.
Without a word, he took them and nodded.
Buttoning her coat against a bitter late winter wind, Madge forced a grin. “Sorry, I’m so clumsy. I was out at the zoo, showing the school kids the monkeys—kind of a funny how they play off each other—but dang my hands get so cold, I could probably freeze water, like one of those superhuman types on TV.”
The service guy grinned and started away. “Well, if you want to sign for the order inside, we can get things moving so you don’t have to wait too long.” He stopped by her car, frowned at the tires, circled around and shook his head. He opened the service door and stood aside.
Nervous anxiety rippled through Madge’s body as she traipsed inside. She tossed her bulky purse onto the high counter. She glanced at the nameplate with Rick written in bold letters, next to a family photo with a pretty wife and two adorable kids.
Rick punched numbers into a calculator.
Marge swallowed back her fear. “So before you get too far, you want to tell me what I’m looking at? I mean, it’s just the oil change, right?”
Rick looked up, an appraising expression on his face. “Truth is, your two front tires are as bald as any I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised you made it through the winter on those things. Your steering wheel has more tread on it.”
Madge’s courage fell to the cement floor. “Well, I’ve been hoping they would make it to June. I only have to drive into the city twice a week, so I figured—”
The horrified look on Rick’s face forced her to grip her courage with both hands. She swallowed hard. “You’re right. It’s not safe. For me or anyone. Okay, I’ll get new ones. Can you get something a little better than what I have now? These only lasted a couple years..”
With obvious relief, Rick nodded and started tapping the calculator again. “We’ll take you up a step and with the oil change we’re looking at…”
Marge knew he was looking at a number larger than anything she had in her checking account. Or would likely have in the near future. When he was done with the detailed costs, tax, she sucked in a fresh breath and pulled her bag forward. “Do you mind if I call my bank? I’ll transfer what I have from savings…and then” —she squinted as if the light hurt her eyes— “maybe you’d let me make monthly payments on the rest? I’m good for it. It’ll just take three…four months tops. My job…well…it’s not one of those high paying ones.”
Rick nodded. “That’s fine. I’ll have to order these now, and when they come in, we can get everything done at once. Will that work?”
Pulling her phone from her purse, Madge exhaled. “Yep. I’ll call the bank now and pay you what I can and then—”
A man behind Marge cleared his throat.
With a frown, Rick peered over Madge’s head.
Marge started for the door. “I’ll go outside. I can’t get any reception in here anyway.” The wind had died down, and Marge soaked in the noonday sunshine. Her heart pounded as she pressed the phone to her ear. A tap on the shoulder turned her attention.
Rick stood before her, a strange expression on his face. “Hey, don’t worry about it. Just go home, and I’ll call you when I have everything set. Okay?”
A fresh blast of frigid air careened through her thin coat. She peered at the service door. “You sure?”
“Yeah. No problem. I’ve got some things to take care of right now, but I’ll call you about arranging the balance and payment.”
As Marge gave Rick her phone number, she wondered if she had accomplished anything. She marched to her car, her keys biting into her grip.
Once at home, Marge made herself a hot cup of tea and settled on the sofa with her checkbook and a pad of paper. She had to rethink her options. She sighed and took a tentative sip. Lipton’s best wasn’t nearly so good without sugar, but hey, it was better than just hot water.
Her phone rang. Dragging her purse by the long strap, she yanked it closer and sifted through myriad objects. Once she had her phone in hand, she tapped it on. “Yeah?”
Marge waited. Oh boy… Exhaustion seeped through her body.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to bother you…and I suppose I acted a little odd when you left. But, you see, the guy in line behind you told me that he overheard our conversation, and he offered to pay for your tires if we ate the cost of labor and the tax.”
Marge froze. She wondered how long she could go without breathing. When conscious thought returned, she blinked and stared at her worn black bag slumped on the floor. “Who? Did what?”
“The gentleman behind you…well, he heard about your situation, and when you went outside, he offered to pay for your tires… but he didn’t want you to know it was him. He said he doesn’t know you or anything. Just his good deed for the day sort of thing. So that’s why I told you to go home.”
A lump swelled in Marge tears, burning behind her eyes. “I never…I mean…I can’t believe…”
“We told him okay; it’s a deal. So I ordered your tires, and you can bring your car on Friday at noon. We’ll have everything done by 3:00. That’ll work for you?”
“But I’d really like to thank him…whoever he is. And you too, of course. I can’t believe…”
“Don’t worry about it. Just bring your car on Friday, and everything will be taken care of. Free of charge. Sometimes life is good, you know.”
Marge swiped the tear from her cheek. “People are good, Rick.”
As she dropped her phone back into her purse, Marge realized that not only weren’t her hands cold, but her whole body felt warm for the first time in months.
Lawry considered the long, red scratch on his face. “It’ll leave a scar—that’s for certain. Just the luck! Spiteful bush! Clip a few branches and wham—raked across the face. Well, I was never handsome to begin with….”
Lawry dabbed the dried blood with a wet tissue and stumped past his unmade bed to his littered desk. A cup with dried fruit juice, a scattering of cereal flakes, and bread crumbs testified to where he ate a majority of his meals. Tottering piles of books crowded around his computer. He fell into his chair with a sigh.
His mom had knitted him a blue hat with his name in scripted, bold, red letters across the top L-A-W-R-Y three Christmases ago, but never having the courage to actually wear it, he had placed it jauntily on his stuffed monkey who adorned the top of his computer like a good-hearted, though rather mischievous looking, angel.
Maximus Monkey, Ruler-Of-All-He-Surveyed, was the main character in a series of comics that Lawry had been working on for years. A moldy orange rind had somehow landed on Max’s shoulder. Lawry winced, and pinching the offending bio-matter in two fingers, he pitched it into an over-filled trash can. He tucked Max’s arm against the wall for better support. Though the little monkey still leaned, at least he wasn’t in imminent danger of careening to the floor. Lawry peered under his desk, his eyes widened. “Oh, wow! I really need to do something about this mess.” He looked for a broom, but as none was in sight, he returned to his computer screen and hit the power button.
He checked his mail. Nothing but spam. No agents or publishers begging rights to any of his stories. He checked the news. “Yep—the world’s going to hell in a hand basket—as usual.”
He opened his recent story page and stared at the blinking cursor. What could he write about that he hadn’t already written? What story was left to tell that hadn’t been told a million times over in cyberspace—a universe filled with unread, unloved stories?
A light knock drew a grunt from Lawry’s middle.
The knock tried again.
Lawry grunted again, a little louder, a little more articulately. “Yeah, what?”
A young boy, Jimmy, stuck his head through the opening. “Mom said thanks for cutting the hedge, and she’s making—hey, you get cut?”
Lawry rolled his eyes. Jimmy had an exasperating habit of stating the obvious as if it was headline news.
“Yeah. It’s nothing.”
Jimmy took those three words as an invitation and crept into his brother’s inner sanctum—holy ground—albeit a messy holy ground. A badminton racket dangled from Jimmy’s hand.
Lawry shifted his gaze away. He wasn’t an outdoorsman as today’s battle with the hedge surely proved. He sighed, his shoulders slumping even further. He leaned in towards the computer screen, tapping keys aimlessly. Just look busy.
“What’re you working on?”
“How about Maximus? He doing anything?”
Lawry’s gaze shot to the skinny eight-year-old. How did the little twerp manage to stay so skinny? He ate at least as much as any ravenous jungle animal Lawry had ever read about, but he stayed stick-thin. Metabolism. Lawry shifted his heavy frame in the chair. Damn metabolism.
“Can you read me something?”
Red, hot blushing fury filled Lawry. It was ridiculously unfair. Here he’d written his heart out for three long years, read every book there was about the art and craft of writing comics, joined clubs, took online classes, worked at a stupid, menial job on the side just to pay his fair share while he still lived at home—yet nothing. Not one,
“Dear Mr. Lawry Lawrence,
We would love to represent you—”
Not even “—like to represent you—” heck even a “—we’d consider representing you—” would be a joy. But no, week after week, he received: “Your work does not fit our needs at this time.”
Lawry glanced at Jimmy’s hope-filled eyes. He was a lonely little kid. Doesn’t seem to make many friends at school. Just hangs out with his stuffed animals, mostly.
Lawry’s hands dropped to his lap. “Well, I don’t have anything new—not really—”
“That’s okay. I like all your stuff. How about ‘Maximus Meets a Moon Alien?’”
“I read that a hundred times. It’s—well—not one of Max’s favorites.”
Jimmy slid to the edge of Lawry’s bed and leaned against it. A stuffed rabbit peeked out from his pant’s pocket.
Lawry tapped his fingers on his desk and stared straight ahead, unblinking. He cleared his throat. “Maximus doesn’t have any favorites. Not anymore. Max is thinking about moving away. Maybe getting a real job—in the real world.”
Jimmy’s eyes widened, fear rippling across his face. “But Max can’t go! He can’t leave here. At least not till he saves his Monkey clan—like he’s always planning….”
Lawry felt the lump in his throat rise before he realized that his eyes stung. “Maximus can’t save anyone, Jimmy. He’s really a rather unimportant little monkey. He’s decided to settle down and stop all this adventure nonsense. Can’t be a silly monkey forever, you know. Gotta grow up sometime.”
Jimmy brushed back tears with the back of his hand, pretending he wasn’t.
Lawry glanced out of the corner of his eye. He reached up, lifted Maximus off the computer, stared into Maximus’ ready-for-anything eyes, and passed him over to his little brother. “You take him. Maybe with you, he can have some fun. He’s tired of being stuck in down here every day. Go play badminton with him—or something.”
Jimmy slid Maximus under his arm uncertainly. “We can’t play alone….”
Lawry huffed a long drawn out sigh. “Oh, what the heck. We’ll play together. Max can watch.”
Two weeks later, Lawry sat at his computer desk. His face was almost healed, though he had been right, there was a scar. His desk was clean, the floor was swept, and his bed was neatly made. He placed one last sheet of neatly printed paper onto a stack and clipped it into a large, red binder entitled in bold blue letters:
THE ADVENTURES OF MAXIMUS MONKEY
By Lawry Lawrence
For Jimmy Lawrence On His Ninth Birthday
Lawry snatched car keys off his dresser and hustled outside with the binder snuggled under his arm. Jimmy was swinging Maximus from a long “jungle rope” in the backyard. Lawry smiled as Jimmy trotted over.
Jimmy pointed to Max. “He hasn’t given up his adventures—see? He’s back in the jungle and leading all the other monkeys to safety.”
Lawry grinned. He could almost see the entire herd as they swung from branch to branch under the green canopy. He patted Jimmy’s shoulder. “Listen, I gotta go to work now, and I probably won’t be back until late—but I wanted to give you this. It isn’t much, I know, but you always liked my stories. I figure they’re best in your hands.”
Jimmy hugged the binder—his eyes wide. “Wow! You sure? I mean—I can’t believe it. Now I can read ‘em whenever I want. I can read them to Max!” Jimmy scurried back to the tree, untied Max’s dangling arm, and showed the little monkey the cover of the binder. Max’s face glowed.
Fifty-six years passed, and Lawry sat in a wheelchair near a bright window. His mind wandered endlessly after a severe stroke and the ravages of diabetes took his body places he never intended to go. Speaking was a challenge now, but he could hear as well as ever. His ears were cocked for the light tread of his brother returning home in the evenings. The shadows are growing long. Soon, he’ll come. He’ll sit with me awhile—he always does. Green day—almost feel—
The door opened and Jimmy stepped in, heavier, stooped a bit, and gray hair crowned his head. “Hey, Lawry. The grandkids were going through the attic over the weekend and guess what they found?”
A bald-spotted, dustier version of his former self, but still staring out of those read-for-anything eyes, Maximus Monkey landed in Lawry’s lap. Lawry blinked. His hand, as well as his voice, shook as he lifted the adventuresome critter. “I—almost—remember—”
Jimmy chuckled as he scraped a chair near, into the dwindling sunlight. “Don’t worry. I remember every word.” Jimmy leaned in, patted Lawrey on the knee, and grinned. “Once upon a time, there was a monkey named Maximus, and he had grand plans—”