Living Springtime

So the school year is over, the last recital is done, and springtime is in full swing. The trees have blossomed and are leafed out, bees buzz from flower to flower, frogs croak in the creek, coyotes sing their chorus, and anonymous owls freak me out with their various shrieks in the dead of night. It’s a sublime time of the year. Everything is bursting with new life.

Almost everything.

My elderly friend and fellow Fillmorian, Wilda, passed away a few days ago, and my heart aches. It’s not that she wasn’t well cared for or that no one loved her. She was loved and cared for. But when I last visited her…it was a series of painful goodbyes. I miss my friend.

Our mutual friend, Margaret, died last month. Our Afternoon Ladies-Teas with Wilda as advisor and organizer are over. The days when the kids could go to her house and do odd jobs, talking and chatting, asking questions, and keeping her company are gone.

When I sat with her the last time and held her hand in the nursing home, I wasn’t depressed. I had a lump in my throat I could not swallow away and an ache burning my eyes, but I knew beyond all shadow of a doubt that we have been blessed to know each other. For this, I will always be grateful.

As I sat by her wheelchair the other day in the central room, someone turned on music, the kind from decades ago—a 40’s tune—and suddenly one of the old men started to sing. Powerfully. His head was back, his eyes were closed, and he was singing gloriously at the top of his lungs. My heart rose.

I looked around the circle; I knew there was at least one couple. Many were widows or widowers. Some had their eyes closed, but several joined in the song too.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the ’40s have always brought up images of the war years, devastation, and hard times. Trials and separations. Fear and loss.

Yet these elderly people had lived through all of that…and much more. And, now, in a nursing home, with music playing, songs warbling from myriad throats, and with their eyes closed, they had a brief respite. They were living their springtime again.

I have another friend, always cheerful, that I visit. Helen’s pleasant, upbeat attitude never falters. She and her husband just celebrated their seventy-first anniversary. The lived together in that same nursing home for a time. Thank God, they are home now…my kids are able to help them manage through the week, so they have a different fate…one created by their children where they can stay at home in familiar surroundings, in the world they crafted through long years of love and hard work.

I’ve met a series of people recently who have told me about their baggage. Their divorces. Their mistakes. How they want to start over and try again. A new relationship. A new life. New hope. Springtime. Our hearts yearn for a new beginning. A chance to get beyond bad memories and live a new life. A better life.

But this one couple stands in testimony of the passage through the dark times. The light at the end. The hope that lives, not in the future, but as a committed ever present now.

All my elderly friends have their lives bundled up in long years of experiences. The good. The bad. Springtime warmth…and winter cold. Marriage and family relationships, like memories, are a collection of what was…and what is…not what ifs. Love and friendship is a passionate embrace of a thousand daily realities, hanging in there and holding on.

So, now, I’m sitting on my back porch, staring at the new onions, potatoes, peppers, and tomato plants, the sounds of nature vibrating in my ears, and yet, I can hear that old man singing. I can see that elderly woman cutting up her husband’s meat so he can eat his dinner.

I can feel Wilda’s hand in mine.

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

Love Anyway

I’ve never been particularly good with suffering. Avoidance? Insecurity? Hyper-control? Sure. Then my all-star qualities shine bright. But being insecure, hyper-controlling, and trying to avoid pain doesn’t a happy life make.

When I was twenty-one, I had the chance to meet my father after long years of separation at—of all places—the Art Institute of Chicago. I was meeting his second wife for the first time. And to make matters even more relaxed, I didn’t know a thing about modern art. But I did discover a latent sense of humor, which apparently shot to the surface like a geyser when under serious pressure.

I amused my dad, his wife, and even myself. Seeing absurdities in the uncomfortable world before me kept my eyes averted from haunting ghosts and garrulous gremlins. Our conversation never veered toward my mom, my brothers or sisters, loss of childhood, alcoholism, substance abuse, or neglect. The conversation stayed right where it needed to be, focused on pictures hanging on walls, which none of us understood.

Contrary to every psychological theory I knew at the time, communication was not the key to our relationship. After that initial reunion, I visited my dad regularly. He attended my wedding, got to know my growing family, and became a steady fixture in my life. Even at the age of ninety, we still connect at least once a week. He may not remember my name some days, but he always remembers that he loves me. And that I love him.

Over the years, we did have a couple of hard conversations about our family and the things that went so very wrong in our lives, but they were not all that productive. His simple admission, “I’m sorry,” was all I ever really needed to hear. And my, “I love you anyway,” was all he really needed to know.

In recent years, I have lost a husband, a brother, several friends, (I have a visitation to attend this weekend), my sense of worth, and even my heart, but in experiencing these losses, I have discovered that there is no fixing pain. There is only, “I’m sorry.” And “I love you anyway.”

Being truly sorry when someone is suffering shares the burden. It is one of the greatest acts of generosity that a human being can undertake.

Loving anyway explodes the walls of control, doubt, fear, hurt, avoidance, and insecurity. Love is not doormat material. Love demands decency, honesty, integrity, and heroism. But it doesn’t demand those qualities all at once in perfect order.

After a particularly brutal loss recently, my imagination conjured up the image of a wounded woman rising after tumbling down a hill. Not unlike Sam at the base of Mount Doom. How’s that for an “I’m sorry, and I love you anyway” scenario? But Sam rose again. Even when it was hopeless to do so. Even when pain had the upper hand. Even at the end of Middle-earth, he rose and loved anyway. And he wasn’t alone.

Pain and loss are twin hells that human beings experience in umpteen versions throughout the course of our journey toward heaven. We can’t fix reality, stop the hurt, make everything right, control outcomes, or even avoid tumbling down hills. Personally, I can crack a joke and laugh at absurdities to keep the ghosts and gremlins at bay, and that helps. Some.

But mostly, I can be sorry and love anyway.

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

Surprised Everyone

Marge sat in the corner near the window and let her mind wander. Not that it didn’t usually wander these days. Old memories ran riot over her soul and left her empty and depressed. If only life wasn’t so dreary, that would be a nice surprise.

Three CNAs strode into the nearly empty dining room. They started clearing away the last of the lunch dishes, pulling off tablecloths, scrubbing down the tables, and rearranging the condiments in preparation for the next meal.

Sitting hunched in her wheelchair and half hidden by a leafy palm tree, Marge rested her head on her good hand and watched the interaction. She knew each person by name since she made a point of paying attention. Made the place a little more human, if not humane.

The tall guy, Jamie, wearing a silver earring and sporting a series of tattoos on his left arm grinned at the little lady, Lula, with dark skin, serious muscles, and a perpetual “Don’t mess with me” look in her eyes. The older man, Reggie, with a grey ponytail and easy going demeanor, chuckled at the other two.

“You two never quit. I swear, if you both get to heaven, they’ll have to put you in different corners just so the angles can get some rest.”

Lula snorted. “Who said anything about getting to heaven? Heck, I’d be happy to stay out of the hothouse…but I don’t expect any special treatment. Besides, I’d be bored silly hanging out with angle types. I’m just not comfortable around clouds and all that—”

With an expert flick of his wrist, Jamie pulled off a stained tablecloth and tossed it onto a rolling table at his side. He nodded like a sage professor encouraging a slow student. “Yeah, you’d probably beat up the angles and fall through the clouds, missy. Sides, God’s probably doing something more fun. Bet he’s got friends all over the universe. Just making the rounds could take eons.”

Reggie wiped down the salt and pepper shakers, straightened, and then rubbed the small of his back. “Jesus has friends, but he’s with his Father…not playing games. Think of all the messed up people who die every day. God, he’s probably worn out listening to all the complaining and whining. You seriously think people go from being screwed up here to being perfect over there?” He shoved a chair in place with a grunt. “Doubt it.”

Her lids grew heavy; Marge closed her eyes. Her mom’s face rose in her mind. Such a kind woman…always thinking of others, except when she was drinking. Then she wasn’t so kind. Died peacefully though. No struggle. Just sort of expired. Not like her dad. Marge shut the last image from her mind and swallowed back bile. She opened her eyes again.

Jamie was laughing.

Marge frowned as she scanned the scene. What—?

Reggie was staring at Lula through flashing eyes. He pointed his finger. “I’m a good Christian Baptist, and I know what scripture teaches. You, my girl, don’t believe in anything. You don’t even know God…so—”

“If I recollect right, Jesus hated righteous old guys throwing everyone into hell.”

Jamie lifted his hands and stepped between the two. “Hey, now. Make love, not war. You know my motto…Jesus loves everyone…sinner and saints alike. We just have to love each—”

Lula shook her head and smoothed down a fresh tablecloth. “Yeah, right. You love everyone…how many boyfriends did you go through last month, stud?”

Jamie squared his shoulders, his face turning dark red. “Cruel, girl. Real cruel.”

Lula flung her hands on her hips. “As I see it, you’re cruel to yourself, buddy. Don’t get on me for saying things straight out. You go from manic on Friday to suicidal on Monday. Don’t expect me to think that’s healthy.”

Enough was enough. Marge cleared her throat.

Three pairs of eyes widened as they fixed on the crippled woman.

Using her good hand, Marge tapped the arm of the wheelchair. The disease that was killing her left her with little strength and even less mobility. She could barely lift her voice. “You all got different gods.”

Reggie’s gaze slid over to Jamie who swung his gaze from Lula to Reggie. Lula tromped over to the wheelchair. “We didn’t see you there, Ms. Henderson. Hope we didn’t disturb a nap or something.”

Marge tipped her head. “Naw. Just remembering. Wondering…”

Lula caressed Marge’s arm. “Bet you got all sorts of happy thoughts to take you back…”

Marge waved her good hand. “Not enough.” She gripped Lula’s arm. “Make some good memories…for yourself and others. You may never have another chance.”

Lula maneuvered the chair away from the window. Her voice rose high and tight, “You got that right, Ms. Henderson. You’re a right smart woman.” She circled around the two men. “I’ll take her back to her room. Time for her meds.”

Reggie nudged Jamie’s arm. “Better get this room done.”

Jamie nodded and pulled another tablecloth free.

Marge closed her eyes and grinned. She pictured her God. The one they all argued about. The one who surprised everyone. Maybe life wasn’t so dreary after all.

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

New Life Into Her Soul

The end of a pier is a lonely place. But sometimes you have to face the deep before you can face your life.

The little bandage on Mary’s breast didn’t hurt, just felt odd, like a scab that needed to come off. She peered down. Her chest looked the same as always. But it wasn’t. She knew the truth. Under her bright yellow shirt, neat stitches marked the spot where a tumor had grown, threatening her very existence.

“There’s always hope,” the doctor had said. A thirty-something woman who had served in the military and brooked no dissent. Even her smile demanded obedience.

Mary didn’t have the heart to argue. Sure, the tumor was gone and new treatment plans prolonged life. But what years? Who wants to live through dying?

She stared at the rippling water. Am I already dead? Her parents had passed away a decade ago, and her only brother lived on the coast of Main and practiced yoga. The fact that they shared the same DNA still amazed her. Her co-workers sympathized, but they didn’t understand.

A flock of honking geese flew in for a landing, sending a party of ducks flapping toward shore. Their startled cries sent the whole park into an uproar. Even a couple squirrels chattered in noisy complaint as they chased each other across the treetops.

With a sigh, Mary shivered. There was no point hanging out at the end of a pier. She had to go home and eat something. Just live until…

“Excuse me?”

Mary turned and blinked at a man’s figure silhouetted against the setting sun. She shaded her eyes and waited. She hardly had the energy to speak.

The man stepped aside. A big guy. Tall with a healthy build, wearing jeans and a button-down blue shirt. “You happen to see a book there?” He pointed to the edge of the pier. “I think I left it…”

Mary turned and considered the wooden planks as if she had never seen them before. To her surprise, white pages glinted in the evening light and fluttered in the breeze. The sound of their flapping awakened her from the torpid stupor. She stepped over and gently lifted the book. “To Kill A Mockingbird?”

The man reached out, his tanned, rough hand exposed his outdoor lifestyle. “Yeah. My wife read it to me when were first married. I thought it might bring back…” He dropped his gaze, his thoughts apparently falling into the rippling water.

Mary swallowed back fear. Her words rushed out like an avalanche trying to bury a mountain of pain. “I read it in high school. Really left an impression. I always wished I had Atticus as my dad.”

The man snorted. “I wish I was Atticus. Instead, I more like Boo Radley.”

Mary squinted. “You don’t look like Boo Radley.” She attempted a smile. “You‘re much too tan.” Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking, so she clasped them behind her back. If only her stomach would stop rolling.

A sheepish grin spread across the man’s face. “Well, I wasn’t going for a literal interpretation.” His humor vanished as his brows furrowed. “You okay?”

With an uneven step, Mary gripped the slimy post and sucked in a deep breath. “My first dose of chemo. Does wonders for my disposition.”

The man grabbed her arm and helped her regain her balance. “Cancer? Oh, God. What kind?”

A surge of strength swept over Mary, and she found she could stand, her breathing calmed. “Breast. Early stage. The doc says I’ll be fine…” She squared her shoulders and panted like a runner about to start a marathon.

He led her away from the post. “Early stage is good…your doctor might be right.”

Mary nodded toward the parking lot. “Mine’s the blue cruise.”

He kept his arm fixed at her side and matched her pace as they maneuvered to the parking lot. He pointed to a Ford Focus. “That’s mine.” He helped her rest her weight against her car. “My name’s Brad. Lost my wife to cancer three years ago. Hell of a thing…”

The warm metal comforted Mary’s cold bones. “Yeah. You’ve got that right.” She peered at him. “Sorry about your wife. Not easy being the survivor, I suppose.”

Brad’s gaze swept across the road. “There’s a fish and chips place over there. You want something to eat before you go? Might do you some good.”

Mary considered the possibility. The faint smell of fried fish wafted on the air and sent demanding ripples through her body. “Yeah. It might do us both some good.” She eyed the book still gripped in his hand. “I always wanted to read that story again.”

Brad took her arm. “It’s a remarkable tale…tells it like it is. Lots of ways to die in this world.”

Mary nodded. “Yeah. Lots of ways to live, too.”

After they ordered, Brad hunched forward and pressed open the novel to the first page. He cleared his throat. “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow…”

Mary leaned back and closed her eyes. The pier faded. A small southern town appeared, and a new vision breathed life into her 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

One Aisle at a Time

Wilson stared at the blinking cursor and couldn’t think of a thing to write. His brain seemed frozen, unable to articulate one creative thought. All he could do was lean back on his swivel chair and let his gaze wander around the room. A midsized wooden bookshelf with five extra books arranged awkwardly on top. Lamp, coffee mug, printer, window, landscape painting hanging slightly crooked, dusty calculator, a crumpled stack of receipts, notepad, frogman…the one Sami had given him on Father’s Day—

Oh, God!

Searing pain clutched his innards. He closed his eyes and turned away. “This will kill me. A month after the funeral, and I’m still a mess.” He heaved himself out of his chair and paced across the room. He stopped at the doorway. Where could he go? To the kitchen? What for? He had no appetite. The thought of food made him nauseous. To the living room? Why? The couch was empty. No stuffed animals. No half-completed pictures. No 4th-grade math book shoved under the pillow.

His phone buzzed. Clenching his jaw, he returned to his desk and snatched up the phone. “Yeah!” He knew he sounded like an angry bull, but hell, he couldn’t help it. He was angry. Disgustingly, furiously, blindingly angry.

“Wil?” Camilla, his wife. She sounded strong. Too strong. Damn. She had no right to be strong. He swallowed and sucked in his cheeks as if chewing his own flesh might help him maintain a modicum of composure.

“Yeah, honey, what’s up?” His shoulders sagged as weariness enveloped him.

“I’m at the grocery store, and I forgot the list…could you get it for me and read it off as I go along?”

Before he could give his brain any formal directions, Wilson found his feet padding into the kitchen. Yep, sure enough, there was the list, written in his wife’s beautiful but tiny cursive. He’d be lucky if he could read it. “Got it.” He squeezed the phone between his chin and his shoulder and held the list out with both hands, far enough to read but not as steady as he would’ve liked.

Her voice calm and parental enunciated her next request. “Great. I made it past the chips and cracker aisle and now I’m stuck between peanut butter and cereal.”

Wilson frowned and leaned against the counter. “Yeah? It says peanut butter and cereal on here…” He shook his head. “Look, you’ve done this every week for years; you’ve got to have the entire store mapped in your head. Dang it, woman, you could do this in your sleep.”

Silence.

Wilson’s heart began to pound. “Honey?”

It was the softest sniffle in the world, but it nearly crushed Wilson’s will to live.

Camilla’s voice wavered through the air, into the phone, and pierced Wilson’s broken heart. “I just don’t know which peanut butter or what cereal…”

Flummoxed, Wilson felt a scream rise from his chest. “The ones you always get.”

A ragged breath brushed his ear and sent prickles of terror racing down his spine. “But we always got crunchy…because that’s what Sami—”

“Oh, God!” The phone clattered to the floor.

Waves smashed against his composure, heaving rocks at his innards. Black water smothered his airways. Vaguely in the distance, he could hear his wife’s plaintive voice calling from the floor.

“Wil? Please, I need to know. What kind of peanut butter? What cereal do I get—?”

Every ounce of his body wanted to grind the phone into smithereens with his heel, but his hands chose differently. He dropped down on a kitchen chair and pressed the phone to his ear. Camilla was crying. There were no sobs or wails. But he knew. She was probably just standing there in the middle of the aisle gripping the cart with one hand while tears poured down her face.

He leaned on one hand and waited. Muffled conversation rose over the distance. Camilla was talking to someone. Another woman…soothing words, a gentle tone… He pressed the phone harder. “Who the—?”

A voice rose. “Lost my son five years ago…hell on earth. Couldn’t pass his bedroom without breaking down and forget going out in public. Took me a whole year before I could go shopping by myself. Terrible. Yes, it is. God have mercy on parents who lose a child. Doesn’t matter how it happens…or how old. Just hell.”

Silence.

Tears streamed down Wilson’s face and meandered over the phone before they fell like miniature pools on the smooth kitchen tabletop. Then, like a tidal wave on the rise, his shoulders heaved and his whole body rocked with searing, overwhelming pain. God, the pain.

After a few moments, still clutching the phone, he heard Camilla sniff. And then a sigh. An embarrassed—giggle? “Cam, what’s going on?” Wilson sat up.

A distant conversation. “Yeah, I’m okay now. Thanks.” Camilla blew her nose. Loudly.

Wilson’s eyes widened. He wiped his face with the back of his hand.

“Wil?”

Teardrops smeared the phone. Wilson snatched a paper napkin, wiped it down, fumbled, and then smashed it against his ear again. “Yeah. You okay, honey?”

“No. But I’m…better.”

He could imagine her shyly ducking her head, winding a strand of hair behind her ear.

“A lady here…she understood…gave me a hug. It’s what I needed.”

Wilson nodded as his tears flowed again. He choked out his words. “So what’re you going to do?”

Camilla cleared her throat and undoubtedly squared her shoulders. “She suggested I try the smooth peanut butter and pick out a new cereal, one we never had before. So I grabbed a banana-strawberry granola mix.” Her voice dropped low, like a child begging for understanding. “Will that be okay?”

Wilson sniffed and grabbed another napkin. He wiped his nose. “Sure, honey. That’s perfect.” He swallowed back the ache in his throat and sat up. He fumbled for the list. “You want to do the rest of the shopping now or come home?”

Camilla’s voice steadied. “I’ll keep going…as long as you stay with me.”

“Course, honey. We’ll just take it one aisle at a time…”

~~~

A half hour later, Wilson returned to his desk. The curser was still blinking. He lifted his hand over the keys and tapped out five words.

One Aisle at a Time…

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 Connection

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.

Instant bonfire!

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.

“Ahhh…you okay?”

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.

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

Eternity Come to Earth

Frying chicken has its hazards. Tom stood back and considered the state of his kitchen. Flour covered the counter, grease specked the stovetop, blood dripped down the side of the sink, and the smoke alarm was blaring.

His eldest daughter, Katie, jogged forward, snatched a towel off the drainer and started waving it under the alarm. She glanced back at her dad. “You could take the fryer off.”

Tom sighed, dropped the last piece of chicken onto the serving dish and pulled the smoking fryer off the hotspot on the stove. He looked around as three more kids sauntered into the kitchen. He waved to the youngest. “Set the table, would you, Meg?”

Rolling her eyes and slouching her shoulders as if she had been asked to drain a swamp, Megan lumbered over to the cabinet and started piling plates into her arms.

Without comment, her older sister Martha placed knives and forks at each place with surgical precision.

Joey leaned against the wall. “I’ll be helping at the Lawson’s after school this week. So if you need something, you’ll have to tell Carl.”

Tom shut out the image of a stack of wood that needed to be split and his eleven-year-old’s last attempt to wield an ax. He frowned. “Where is Carl?”

“Out in the woods…as usual.” Meg simpered. “He wants to be a Nordic invader.”

Katie grinned as she sliced a warm loaf of homemade bread. “Don’t be silly. He wants to be an explorer…travel to distant lands and—”

Martha placed her hands on her hips, her brows drawn down in severe lines. “He needs to get practical. Joey found a good job…Carl could do the same. If he tried.”

“Like you work so hard!” Megan threw up her hands and blew a strand of hair away from her face.

Rubbing his temple, Tom slid onto his chair and dropped his head onto his hands. “Guys. No quarreling. You know how it makes me feel.”

Dead silence filled the room.

Tom felt Katie’s firm hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been working hard, Dad. Eat some dinner, and we can clear up.”

Fighting back tears, Tom waited a moment to gain his composure. Breathing through a quick prayer, Tom lifted his head at the sound of footsteps running into the room.

“Sorry, I forgot the time. Is that fried chicken?” Carl’s face lit up in boyish joy.

Tom waved to the sink. “Wash your hands first.”

As the chicken, mashed potatoes, a green salad, and canned slices of peaches were laid on the table and just as quickly consumed, Tom toyed with his food. He knew he needed to drop a bomb, but he wasn’t sure how to do it.

Finally, he cleared his throat. “Uh, kids, I’ve got something to tell you.”

All heads rose and five pairs of eyes focused on their father.

“I’ve decided to put the house up for sale. We’re going to move to Wisconsin to be closer to Grandma and Grandpa.”

Silence.

“I know you love this place, but—”

Katie stood up. “You can’t, Dad!” Tears filled his eldest daughter’s eyes.
“It was bad enough the younger ones don’t get to grow up with a mom, but you want to take them away from the only home they’ve ever known. How could you?” She flung herself out of the kitchen while every gaze dropped to the floor.

Tom’s stomach churned. The chicken he had forced down seemed to flutter about as if it was still alive. He exhaled a long breath and reviewed the rest of his despondent clan.

Martha wiped her hands with her napkin and pushed away from the table. “It’s gonna be hard, but I think you’re acting sensibly, Dad. We can’t take care of this place, and besides, there are better high schools up there. We’ll have grandma and papa to help so you can go to work without worrying all the time…”

As his second child began to clear the dishes, Joey silently stood and started for the door.

Tom cleared his throat. “Nothing from you, then?”

Joey shrugged. “I like helping out at the farm, but Wisconsin has farms too. And the city has… things.”

Tom felt tears flood his eyes again. “Like what?”

“Museums…a zoo.” He glanced at his little brother. “As long as we can get to nature once in a while…see some animals…it won’t be so bad.” He bunched his hands into his pockets and opened the door. “I’m going out.”

Tom nodded and watched his eldest boy lumber across the threshold. His gaze shifted to his two youngest. Carl sat slump-shouldered and unmoving. Meg peered up and met his gaze, her eyebrows raised.

“You have a question, Meg?”

“Are you going to get a new job?”

“Kind of. I’ll still do the same work, but there’s a new opening at the branch in Madison. You’ll get to be around more of the family. Lots of kids on the Leonard side…”

Meg slid from her seat and stopped before her father, pressing her body against his knees. “It’s okay, dad. I get it. Joey had to find another home for Molly cat last year.”

A laugh strangled his cry, as Tom hugged his daughter. Brushing her hair away, he stared into her deep-set blue eyes. “I love you.”

Meg grinned. “Yeah. Me too. I mean, love you, too, dad.”

Martha beckoned her little sister. “Come here, twerp, and help me do the dishes.”

Her grin widening, Meg tugged a towel off the rack. “I’ll beat you to the last dish.”

Martha shook her head. “I’ll wash; you dry. Then I’ll put them away. But tomorrow, you gotta set the table for breakfast.”

Meg stuck out her hand to seal the deal.

Tom leaned back on his chair, the heavy rock of depression lifting ever so slightly from his chest. He eyed his second son. “You okay, Carl.”

Carl shrugged.

Tom leaned on his elbows and clasped his hands. “Joey is right. There is a great zoo in the city. We went there once when you were small. You probably don’t remember—”

Carl fixed his gaze on the floor.

Katie stepped into the room, opened the closet and pulled out the broom. She started sweeping.

Tom watched and waited. He bit his lip. He started to open his mouth, but he could hear his wife’s voice in his mind. “Give ‘em time, Tom. Big changes are made of small moments.”

As he stood, he pressed Carl’s shoulder. “Let me know…when you want to talk about it…questions…anything.”

Tom stepped from the kitchen into the lamp-lit living room and peered through the front window into the evening horizon. Joey stood against a setting sun, his body outlined in crimson.

Loneliness engulfed Tom, though he wasn’t really alone. Catherine lingered in his mind and soul, and his kids tugged at every sinew in his body. Still, he had to make the hard call, the necessary decisions. He was the dad. God’s appointed to protect and provide for his family.

He felt Katie stop beside him, her broom in her hand. She shuffled her feet. “Sorry.”

“It’s hard. I know.”

Katie gripped her broom like a soldier about to enter the battlefield. “Go on…get Carl and walk that invisible line between day and night. Mom used to say that it was Eternity come to Earth.”

Tom opened the front door, felt a surge of fresh air enter his lungs. He called into the kitchen. “Come on, Carl. There’s wood to stack, and tomorrow you’re going to help me chop the rest of the pile.”

Carl stepped forward, blinking and hesitant. “You sure?”

“Yep. Let’s do what we can tonight. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.”

 

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