As Mom Used To Say

Richard wanted to kill someone. It wasn’t his usual state of being, but at the present, it was undoubtedly for the best that he stomp into the wilderness and get some space between him and the rest of humanity.

A squirrel scampered across his path, halted, raised itself on its hind legs, and stared as if considering the possibility between a snack and sudden death.

Richard clenched his hands in his pockets, crunched a snack bar in one and gripped his phone in the other. He pounded forward.

The squirrel high tailed it to the nearest tree and clawed its way to the top.

Richard, who normally enjoyed wildlife, grunted and smacked a branch out of his way.

The branch smacked him right back.

The squirrel, chattering from a high limb and holding a couple of notes longer than usual, warned the entire animal kingdom what kind of man approached.

“To heck with it.” His calf muscles burning and his lungs screaming, Richard aimed for a bench set on the edge of the wooded path. As he neared the resting spot, his joints thanking him profusely for the privilege of living through another day, Richard stopped short. A new sound broke through the air. He peered up.

The treetops, devoid of chattering squirrels and cawing birds, had nothing to add to the faint call or whine that Richard was sure he had heard. An injured dog?

“Awww—hell!”

It was a woman’s voice. A woman in pain, by the sound of it. The term “damsel in distress” crossed Richard’s mind. He swatted it away with the autumn insects.

Heaving his robust frame, a little larger in the tummy than he would like, though he had to admit his legs looked great in shorts, Richard lumbered back the way he had come.

Yep. There she sat, crouched like a kid on the playground when the other girls got mean, holding her ankle and…swearing like a sailor?

Richard scratched his head and glanced up. Really? Retirement had been nothing it was cracked up to be. He traveled for the first six months, took up volunteer work for the next six months, and recently got into a tangle with an idiot from his church who insisted that predestination was part of their faith system and would not allow any new members to join unless they had paid-up life insurance policies.

The woman—somewhere in her late forties—stopped rocking, and thankfully, stopped swearing. With a sudden intake of breath, she lurched to her feet, yelped, and hopped on one foot until she smacked into an oak tree, which managed to hold her in a partially upright position.

Richard snorted and practically pulled out his hair as he ran his fingers over the top of his head. So like something his first wife would’ve done. Stubborn as the day was long.

The woman glared at him. “So glad you’re enjoying my plight.”

“Hey, I would’ve helped you up…” Richard looked around. “You want me to call for… assistance?”

Despite an October breeze rustling through the trees, sweat beaded on the woman’s brow. “Sure. My phone is dead as a doornail.”

Richard’s ears twitched. He pulled his phone from his sweatpants pocket and punched the keypad to life.

The woman lifted her hand. “Hey, stop. Really. It’s not that bad. My car is only a mile or so back. I can make it. I hate to have paramedics come all the way out here. I’d feel like a fool. Besides, they might have someone in real need somewhere else.”

Richard stepped forward and shrugged. “You can use my arm if you want to hop that far.” He tilted his head, peering at her, and offered his elbow.

She shoved off the tree, balancing on her good foot, and listed like a sinking ship. “Thanks. My name’s Sigrid.” She huffed at his quizzical expression and gripped his elbow. “From a Scandinavian author…my parents were literary fools. I forgave them long ago.” She limped at his side. “Like an idiot, I decided to get in shape and start jogging, and look what happens!”

Richard nodded. Her hand felt firm but strangely familiar on his arm. He always went for women in trouble. Soft heart his friends said. Soft mind his mother told him. Good ol’ mom. Richard chuckled.

“Am I still amusing you?”

Sigrid’s tone carried an edge, but when he glanced at her, there was a light in her eye and a smile hovering on her lips.

“No, mam. Sorry. I was just remembering something my mom told me long ago.”

“Care to share? I love a good quote.”

“Well, my mom liked history. Made me something of an eccentric among my peers since I would quote obscure historical facts while throwing together financial plans for my clients. Anyway, she loved to remind me that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Sigrid nodded and stopped, catching her breath. “Just a sec. I’m not trained for the hop-Olympics quite yet.” She leaned more heavily on Richard’s arm.

Richard pointed to a hefty tree trunk lying near the path. “Here, let’s stop a minute.”

Sigrid plopped down on the log and wrapped her fingers around her ankle, wincing. “Dang, but I am such a klutz. My daughters ordered me out of the kitchen because they say I’ll break dinner instead of make dinner.”

Richard snorted. Then, as the mental image washed over him, he laughed outright. It felt so good to laugh again. He peered at her left hand. No ring. “Your husband doesn’t help with the cooking?

Sigrid hooted. “Well, that was subtle!” She lifted her ring-less hand. “Divorced seven years. Then, using air quotes, she smirked. “We’re friends.” With a shrug, she shoved the topic aside. “Two college-age girls and a married son. Their dad sees them when he wants. I keep busy with work and—” She rolled her eyes, “Keeping in wonderful shape.”

Confession time? Richard wondered why he felt like he should order a drink from the bar. “Divorced ten years. Retired one year. Two grown sons who live overseas. Do lots of charity work and slowly losing my mind to boredom.

“Hah! You sound like my ex. Always doing other people a good turn but never satisfied with himself.”

Oh, brother. Richard figured he’d cut this short. “I’m an introvert, Aries, non-denominational Christian, and sleep without a pillow.”

Clapping her hands over her mouth, Sigrid nearly exploded in laughter.

Four birds escaped with their lives from the leafy foliage.

Sigrid stood and beckoned Richard with a sly glance. “Come on, Mr. Aries, you gotta walk me to my car so I can get home in time for dinner and tell my girls that I’ve had the best jog of my life.”

Richard rose and offered his arm. “But what about being doomed to repeat history?”

Sigrid grinned. “Ah. But as my mom used to say, ‘Live and learn.’”

A young squirrel, probably still in adolescence, froze directly in Richard’s path. It rose with a hopeful expectation in its eyes.

“Aw, heck.” Richard pulled the broken candy bar from his pocket, peeled off the wrapping, and slung it at the quadruped.

Duly grateful, the squirrel grabbed the treat and sped away.

Richard slipped the sticky wrapping into his pocket, stuck out his arm, felt the weight her of hand, and strolled back to civilization.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Make One Strong

A squirrel nearly committed suicide under the wheels of my car the other day. Lucky for it, I wasn’t driving. My daughter was. The one just learning to drive. She took us on a slight detour on the shoulder of the road, but she kept us alive, and Mr. squirrel lived to scramble up another tree.

I often wonder how my kids will react when something unexpectedly horrible happens in their lives. Being mom, I would like to control the universe well enough so that nothing—in the bad sense—ever does happen to shake up their worlds or derail their plans.

In my lifetime, I’ve heard a lot of different stories involving difficult life challenges. In each case, the people involved lived to tell the tale. They each faced different realities, but in the end, they all had to stare evil in the face. No one avoided being wounded in the process.

Yet, the view from each person’s perspective is so different, I have to wonder, why?

Why do some people suffer and later heal, and others relive their pain endlessly, repeating ugly cycles as if they can’t get enough of them?

In a conversation with a friend this week, we discussed the influence of music on our psyche. Some music depresses the mind and soul with repetitious complaint, unfulfilled longing, hellish remembrances, or wonton grief. Artwork can do much the same. In reviewing a pop-cultural art gallery recently, I was struck by how many of the drawings, paintings, and sketches depicted grievous death or demonic hauntings. And then, of course, there are modern movies and television offerings, which we imbibe like shipwrecked sailors tossing back strong drink, binging on multiple episodes and drinking in images faster than our brains can process what is happening.

The difference I found between hope and despair?

Take a guess. It’s pretty obvious.

Family and community. Either you have a strong one, or you make one strong.

I have yet to hear anyone share a life story that involved nothing but bliss and happiness. If it isn’t a disease, drug addiction, economic hardships, socio-political inequalities, cultural bias, religious differences, or a hundred other possible ways of hurting and being hurt, we humans seem to find some way to dismiss our bliss or ruin joy for others.

Yet, not everyone is miserable. Not everyone gives into despair. Not everyone hates or hurts back. Not everyone hides out in the shadowed corners of fantasy or drug-induced hallucinations.

I know men and women who have lost beloved children, siblings, and spouses, suffered through cancer, experienced poverty, been misunderstood, lonely, and ignored. But at some point, they decided to get back on their proverbial feet and smile again. Even when there wasn’t a whole lot to smile about. They looked for something to be grateful for. They found it. Then they gave it away. They offered their hard-won joy, peace, and goodwill to those around them.

Funny thing, those people don’t spend much time listening to lamentable music, watching characters slip into repeated despair, shoot chemicals into their veins, consume enough sugar to send an elephant into insulin shock, rant and rave about life and politics, or paint pictures all in black.

Everyone makes mistakes. Mr. Squirrel nearly ended up as roadkill. Some squirrels do, and vultures don’t mind. There are always vultures around happily feasting on someone else’s tragedy.

But, we can learn. Hopefully better than our four-footed friends. We may have to ride on the shoulder of the road to save someone or save ourselves. But we can get back on the road; think about where we are going, and how we want to get there.

We may not pick our horrors, but we can decide to relive or release them.

Family and community—Either you have a strong one, or you make one strong.

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

Allow My Soul To Soar

So, there is a nest of swallows right above my porch doorway, high on the south side of the house, just under the eves. The papa and mama cared for three hatchlings throughout the spring, bringing them tidbits to munch on whenever they were hungry, which seemed like every minute of every day. Each morning, it has been a pleasant entertainment to watch the parents nurture the young ones overhead. The fact that they eat insects only makes the deal a sweeter—for me anyway.

But then, sadly, recently, a car hit one of our oldest cats. It was a tragic event since several of the kids witnessed the accident, and it left an ugly mark on the day. It was no one’s fault as the cat got right under the car’s tire and there was no way to stop it from happening. Just one of those terrible things…like a destructive storm or a deadly disease. Hell happens. Even here.

Finally, last night, as the heat of the day finally dropped to a moderate temperature, I sat out and watched the baby swallows join their parents careening about the sky. They flew in bird ecstasy, capering about like sky-born gymnasts. Delight incarnate.

I know perfectly well that the critters around the place only live for a short time. I care for them as well as I can. Even to the point of risking life and limb by hanging hummingbird feeders out the second-story window. Two of our dogs are so old; they can barely shuffle down the road. They try to follow us on our evening walk, and it becomes painful to watch them trying to keep up. I worry that a tractor will hit them. But they stay off the road if we’re not on it. They want so much to be with us. So they stagger along.

In the country, it can seem foolish to get attached to animals since we know full well that some critters are raised as food. Pets are a luxury. An illusion sometimes. It is a human decision who lands on the dinner table and who gets fed from the table.

But decide we must. And our hearts get involved whether we like it or not. I struggled with the irony of critter care and affection until I realized that I’m more steward than owner. I treat each animal well, whether it is a chicken raised for meat, a dog trained for protection, or a cat urged to hunt for mice. Most of our cats and dogs do earn their keep. But not by any monetary standard.

As Beatrix Potter, A. A. Milne, Margery Williams, and other famous authors have taught me, animals do speak to the human spirit. Personally, my life would be much poorer without Peter Rabbit, Tabitha Twitchit, Tigger, Eeyore, and the skin horse.

As I observe a household cat lounging on the porch with one eye following the birds overhead, a dog ambling about the backyard with its tail wagging in silent greeting, the hens pecking at melon rinds thrown out back, and the happy swallows dancing in air, I have to stand in awe of our mighty Creator who makes the sublime so honest and approachable.

After all, who am I to befriend the supremely confident cat, the immodestly enthusiastic hound, and the sky-larking-singing-a-merry-tune birds?

I am humbled by the honor. When tragedy strikes, I bow my head and accept what I cannot change. We are all only here for a short time. When fried chicken feeds my family, I am grateful. When I stroke the thick fur of a pet, I join their gladness. When I hear the hens cackle, I laugh at their ridiculous antics. While I live, I love and nurture where I can, not drawing thick lines between the human and animal kingdom. God has already done that.

I simply admire and allow my soul to soar.

 

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

Romantic Soul

Kathy loved hot tubs. But she couldn’t admit that to a living soul. She also loved chocolate chip mint ice cream, but she rarely indulged. And as for mystery novels…well, if there was a bit of romance thrown in, so much the better. But God forbid anyone ever caught her reading a trashy novel. No, she kept those squashed under a tower of historical biographies detailing the late-greats of the nineteenth century. So far…no one ever caught on.

It was a perfect spring day. The cherry and peach trees were in full bloom and if the sky glowed any bluer, she’d break into song…and that would never do. Lord have mercy. Kathy’s heart swooned, but her body stayed as ridged as a cliff facing turbulent ocean waves.

Elliot had no idea what he was doing to her insides. But then Elliot had better things to do than worry about his frazzled Catechism assistant. As a director of social services for the county, he had people with real problems to deal with. Unwed mothers, abused kids, out of work fathers, drug-addicted teens. The list was endless. People’s problems were endless. Yet Elliot always managed to smile at his hyperactive class of Catholic kids and act like he was having great fun just being with them.

Kathy’s heart melted at the mere memory of Elliot’s face. She pulled open the door to the Sacred Heart Community Center and stepped into the quiet interior. No one else had arrived yet. Good. That gave her time to arrange the material for today’s class and set the player on the right episode for tonight’s theme—Who Do You Say That I Am?

As she brushed by the front desk, she noticed a half-empty water bottle. Elliot’s? Probably. No one else used this classroom during the week. She picked it up and stared at it as if its previous owner would magically appear to take back his property. She jumped at the sound of a woman’s voice.

“Staring at it won’t bring it to life, honey.”

Kathy turned around and faced the matronly figure of the Pro-Life Director.

In her early fifties, with salt and pepper hair that she kept tied in a neat bun on the top of her head, Chika might look like a schoolmarm of old, except that she wore jeans, hiking boots, and an oversized plaid shirt, which would have fit a lumberjack.

A blush spread over Kathy’s cheeks.

Chika moved into the room like a ship’s captain taking the helm. “I’ll be delivering the main address today. Elliot asked me to come in and highlight some behavior issues he’s concerned about.”

Kathy bit her lip. “I thought we were doing Who Do You Say That I Am?”

“Well, we are…sort of. Just add in the consequences of unregulated lust and rampant promiscuity, and we’ll have tonight’s theme.”

Kathy thought her face might have caught on fire. “Oh?”

Chika grinned. “It’s a talk the kids need to hear…but, not you. In fact—” She wandered to the front of the room, pulled a key out of a deep pocket, and unlocked the cabinet. “I think you could do with a little more romance in your life…not less.”

Embarrassment combated with fury as Kathy stood before the chalkboard. Undiluted anger won. “Oh, really?” An edge sharpened her voice as it rose to a squeak.

Chika shook her head. “Come on. Be honest with yourself. You like Elliot. And I think he likes you…but you give that poor man not an ounce of encouragement. It’s time to step off the sidelines and make your move.”

“That’s hardly my place! I’m a modest woman and I—”

“What’s modesty got to do with it? Look in the Bible, honey, and get with the times. God made man and woman for a reason!”

“I’m perfectly well aware of that fact, but I’m hardly about to throw myself—”

Chika grinned. “No one suggesting anything radical. Would be amusing to see you get a little radical, I’ll admit. But—” She leaned in closer. “Since you’re the two shyest people on the planet when it comes to romance…I’ll just ask God to do His thing and give you two a little nudge.” She nodded to a foot high statue of Jesus with His sacred heart glowing in his chest. She grinned. “Author of romance, don’t you know?”

Completely flummoxed by this unorthodox reasoning, Kathy snorted a tiny puff of dragon’s breath and retreated across the room.

The sound of pounding feet turned both women to the doorway.

His eyes wide with anxiety, Elliot rushed into the room. “Call 911 and get Jason’s mom. He’s having an asthma attack. I can’t calm him down.”

With flashbacks of her own childhood asthma trauma flooding her brain, Kathy rushed to the hallway and found Jason slumped against the wall. His face flushing bright red and his hands fluttering in a panic as he dragged a ragged breath from his chest.

Kathy dropped to her knees and braced his body upright. She stared into the boy’s face. “Look at me, Jason, and squeeze my arms. Breathe. Slow in…slow out…look at me…everything is going to be okay. I’m here. You’ll be fine. Relax. Let your breath come…one in…two out…”

His shoulders relaxing as he clasped Kathy’s arms, Jason closed his eyes and exhaled.

A bustling movement forced Kathy aside. She got out of Jason’s mother’s way. The harried woman handed an inhaler to the boy who gripped it in both hands and soon had it pressed to his mouth, his mother continuing to count out slow breaths.

Kathy stepped aside and stood alone as the blare of an ambulance sounded in the parking lot. Her heart pounded, but she sucked in a deep breath and then exhaled releasing the tension. A firm hand pressed her shoulder.

Elliott leaned in and whispered in her ear. “You’re amazing. Thank you.”

With only a slight turn of her head, Kathy met Elliot’s gaze. A blush warmed her cheeks. The smell of chocolate-chip mint ice cream filled her imagination. As she swallowed hard, a figure across the room caught her attention.

Chika raised her eyebrows, a knowing smile on her lips. She pointed to the figure of Christ. A rose lay at His feet. Kathy blinked…and then squinted. It was one of the plastic roses used to decorate the room. Well, okay, it was a romantic gesture…giving God a rose.

Elliot’s hand still rested on Kathy’s shoulder. It felt warm and comfortable there.

A shocking thought raced through Kathy’s mind, sending a shiver down her back. Does God have a romantic soul?

Perhaps He likes chocolate-chip mint ice cream too.

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

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

Start in the Clouds

“Just put me out of my misery now, would you?” Wearing a pair of worn work jeans, a plaid shirt, and mud splattered tennis shoes, Kevin pushed back from his laptop desk and swiped a large coffee mug off the side table. “I might as well try fishing for tuna at the Skinner’s pond.”

His bulky frame positioned before his ancient computer, George grinned and thrust out his empty mug. “Since you’re getting a refill?”

“What do I look like? A serving—”

“Ah, ah! Careful. Don’t lose your nice boy demeanor the moment you get offline. After all, a good woman can smell a fraud all the way across the cyber universe.”

“Sure, she can smell fraud…but can she see decency, kindness, and everlasting patience?” Kevin plowed his way through the cluttered office, scattering stray papers in his wake.

The overhead light glinting off his bald head, George leaned back on his chair, the rollers squeaking in useless appeal, and propped his scuffed boots on the corner of his desk. “I told you that this online dating thing was a waste of your time and talent. No good woman will put her face on a dating site. And those that do will only see you’re an unmarried farm boy with four kids. Not a romance in the making, my boy.”

Sloshing coffee into his cup, Kevin shook his head. He yanked a paper towel from the rack and wiped up the spill. With a steadier hand, he filled George’s mug brimful. “Look, this isn’t exactly St. Louis. Small town America has lots of land and sky but few people. Not a lot of unmarried options around here.”

“You could try the big city…visit your friend…the cool one with the long ponytail and suave attitude. He’s probably got women lining up—”

Passing George’s mug safely into his friend’s hands, Kevin perched on the edge of a ripped couch and blew on the steaming coffee. “Not really. He’s struggling as much as I am. Says that every woman he goes out with has this list…an impossible list by the way. A guy has to split the bill…or he’s a Neanderthal. Except for the ones who expect him to pay for everything, or he’s a selfish jerk. And women like beards…or hate them. Got to have a decent job that pays well, you better revere your mother, and God forbid you have a strong opinion about religion or politics.”

George snorted. “Just to be fair…”

Kevin stared over his cup. “Yeah? What?”

“Well, I happened to notice that you put on your profile that you live with your mom.”

“She’s sixty-eight years old and would be in a nursing home if I wasn’t helping her out.”

“Not exactly chick-bait, my friend.” He swallowed a sip of coffee and shrugged. “Though I admire your honesty, did you have to mention that you got laid off last year?”

“The harvest was terrible. Besides, I picked up carpentry work and made more money in the long run…”

“I know and you know…but listen, buddy… You’re going to have to explain every bloody detail or learn to leave some stuff out.”

“I suppose I should leave my kids out?” Kevin’s jaw hardened as he returned to his desk.

“Naw. I think you should tell the truth about them upfront. Your wife died. You’ve done a great job with the kids…and any woman who isn’t open to that isn’t worth your time anyway.”

“Like anyone wants to deal with…”

“What?”

“Anyone’s real life.”

George sighed and dropped his feet to the ground. “Now, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.” George folded his hands in his lap and leaned forward. “Look. Back in my day, a guy met a gal at a school dance or got set up by a friend…or maybe saw a nice girl at church or something. Heck, it just sort of happened. We had movies and stuff, but we knew that wasn’t real. Least most of us knew.”

Kevin propped his head in his hand. “But now?”

George flicked a finger at the computer screen. “Well, now, everything is done online. Shopping, banking, even this dating thing. And it’s all in the head. Works for numbers…but not so good for the heart. How many women have you reviewed just this week, say?”

Kevin shrugged. “Maybe twenty profiles…”

“See? That’s exactly what I mean. Twenty! Lord, have mercy; they all get to looking alike after five. No one can get excited about meeting woman number seven or eight…or fifteen. We’re just not built that way. We’re social beings…our attraction is filtered through our senses. All you got to go on is a few pictures and a carefully worded bio.”

Kevin dragged his fingers through his hair. “Times are a changing, my friend. I’m long past school dances, my friends are married—hanging on for all they’re worth—or divorced and bitter. And the average age of women at my mom’s church is about seventy.”

George squinted at Kevin. “You looked at twenty profiles? Really?”

“Or so…”

“And not one of them caught your eye?”

“Several did…but one gal had a weird sense of humor, another was three years younger than me, two were going to nursing school so they’ll never even think about staying home with kids, and besides…can you imagine the school loans? And the rest either had kids or had ticking clocks or—”

“Sheesh! And I thought women were picky!”

“Aw, quit! I just don’t want to get entangled in another messy family. You remember Brenda’s sister? Issues, man. Major drama. And I’m hardly in a position to take on anyone’s financial mess…”

“Do you happen to hear yourself when you talk?”

Kevin tapped his keypad and glared at George.

“Hey, just saying… You’ve decided all this stuff without one conversation, right? Or maybe one or two conversations…”

“Who wants to wade into quicksand?”

George snorted and glanced at his watch. “You do, pal. You do. You want a relationship with a woman…expect quicksand. Expect drama, financial stress, scary family closets, sick kids, bad-mood days, lonely nights, and a few headaches to boot.”

Kevin stared at his screen. “Sounds charming.”

“Yeah. But that’s only part of it. There are also the quiet talks on the couch, holding hands, smiles from across the room when you both know what the other one is thinking, the kind of hug that holds your heart in place when nothing else in the world can…” George stood and plodded across the room. He patted Kevin’s arm. “Hell, look at us. You hate how I decorate the workspace, whine about my filing system, undermine my authority every chance you get, and act like an overgrown puppy half the time. Do I mind? Yeah. But do I put up with you? Sure. And we make a great team.” He leaned down. “Now add in a great—”

George put his hand in front of George’s mouth. “Stop now. Save yourself. And me.” He shifted and glanced at his friend. “I get it.”

“Good.” George put his empty mug on the sideboard and headed for the restroom. “After work, check out a couple profiles, chat to some lucky woman. And bring yourself back to earth, man. Even if you do have to start in the clouds.”

Kevin watched his friend stride out the door. He shook his head…and grinned.

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