The Lonely Wish, Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of 3, of The Lonely Wish, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Click here to read Part 1.


The Lonely Wish (Continued)

 

The next day I started to walk into town. I was no longer a crippled man, so now I figured I could look my fellow brethren straight in the eye and ask ’em to let me do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage. I felt like a respectable man. An upright respectable man, now that I was a whole man.

But before I got to town a temptin’ thought hit me. I thought, supposin’ I should stay out of town for jist one more night and see if that lucky star comes out again. Then I could wish for enough money so that I wouldn’t even have to work. I could go into town and be not only respectable, but also rich.

Shore enough, that night the lucky star did come out again, fillin’ up the eastern horizon with all its brilliant shinin’ colors.

“Lucky star,” I said, “I wish I could have a thousand dollars in gold, right here in my pocket.”

My pocket suddenly ripped, and the weight of a thousand dollars in gold fell down my pant leg and hit my foot.

So I wished that my foot would stop hurtin’, and it did. Amazingly, the pain just went away like blowin’ a candle out.

That night I also wished for a new suit and a fine horse. I got both, and rode into town the next day a rich and respectable man, who only two nights earlier had been standin’ on a bridge contemplatin’ suicide.

I turned the heads and eyes of a lots of folks, especially a lot of women-folks. But not too many of the younger, more attractive women were lookin’ at me, and I realized it was because of my age. I was 48 years old and had the kind of wrinkles an 80-year-old might have, due to all the misery I’d been through the past few years.

But I was a man with a lucky star, so that evenin’ I wished I could be twenty years old again.

The next day the young women were finally lookin’ at me, and I told ’em I was the rich son of that old galoot who’d come through the day before.

Soon I had it all. I had a pretty young wife, a mansion, fine horses, lots of money, and lots of respect from the townsfolk. I was a rich, respectable young man, far from that old white trash dirt farmer who’d been burned out way back in Georgia. I was a man who owned a lucky star. And all of my wishes were comin’ true.

But after awhile I learned not to wish for too much. I learned that havin’ too much money, too many possessions—too much of anythin’, in fact—was dangerous. It got people to talkin’. And talk about a wealthy man attracted thieves. Thieves have been known to kill for money, and I did not want to die for what I had wished for.

You see, my lucky star was no good to me by day. It was only good for me at night, when I could see it. And if it should happen to be a cloudy night, then it still worn’t no good for me. If I couldn’t see my lucky star, I could wish ’til my lips turned blue and it wouldn’t do me no danged good. I had to see it, to wish on it effectively.

So I learned to be careful about my wealth. I learned that by jist bein’ borderline rich I could feel safe enough from thieves, or from jealous poor people, or the like.

I learned to keep a low profile and not to make much of an impression on people. That kept the talk down, and helped me feel more comfortable with my wealth.

Somethin’ I refused to do was let myself age. I loved bein’ twenty years old. For one thing, it made thieves think twice about attackin’ me—young, strappin’ and healthy as I appeared. Also, I was afraid that by aging I would be more susceptible to ill health. I didn’t want to suddenly get sick and wind up dyin’ before I could get a chance to see my lucky star and wish myself back into good health. That was a great fear of mine.

But unfortunately I had to let my wife age. Wishin’ her to stay young would eventually lead to some questions bein’ asked, and then a lot of talk that could become harmful. Perhaps people would accuse her and me of bein’ in league with the devil or somethin’. I was afraid of that kind of talk, and what it could lead to.

But after about ten years, people did begin to talk. They talked about me, and why I wasn’t aging. They wondered aloud, and even joked half good-naturedly with me about it. The handwritin’ was on the wall, and I knew the time had come for me to leave. Leavin’ seemed to be my only option.

My wife was a nice enough person I guess, but the time had come. So one mornin’ she woke up and I wasn’t in bed next to her. I had moved on.

I wound up in another town a thousand miles away. I took on a new identity, with new looks, to keep from bein’ recognized by someone from my past who might come travelin’ through my present. I wished myself new wealth, and began courtin’ young women.

Soon I was all set up again, just like before. And for another ten years I was able to live the life of a comfortably rich, but quiet man, with a beautiful young wife. No one talked about me much or bothered me very often. In fact I think I was hardly ever even thought about.

And the cycle continued. Decade after decade I would pull up stakes and start a new life somewhere else. The years were like a gentle breeze on a summer day—they just seemed to slip by without me noticin’ anythin’ but a pleasant good time.

The years rolled on into the twentieth century. And on they went, through World War I, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Korean War. And on I went, with my lucky star as my guide.

But somethin’ was a’changin’ inside me. I guess I was goin’ through a kind of a personal crisis. I was feelin’ kind of hollow inside. More and more all the time. I would look back at all my wives and all my lives and ask myself if it had been worth it. I would ask myself if I was really happy. I would want to know what the meanin’ of life was. And I would want to know if I was fulfillin’ the meanin’ of life.

But when I boiled it all down, I decided I was just plain old lonely. Here I’d had so many wives and I had left them all, each time just when I was beginnin’ to know and appreciate them. And they had never gotten to know me. I had lied to each and ever one of ‘em about my past and the source of my wealth, because I didn’t want ‘em to know about my lucky star. I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me. Or that if they did believe me they would talk about it to others. Talk seemed to be the most dangerous enemy I had. And so to prevent talk about myself, I had to keep from talkin’ about myself. And that meant remainin’ lonely, even with my wives.

The Vietnam War busted loose on a lonely world for me. I had just left another wife, who was beginnin’ to wonder how I’d kept my young looks for so long. This time, I vowed, I would not get married again until I met a woman who I could trust. A woman who I could tell the truth to about myself, and who wouldn’t talk it around to others. A woman who I could get to know, and who could get to know me. A woman who I wouldn’t feel lonely with. This time I would wait until I met such a woman.

In 1969 I met Penelope Frooze. She was 25—a little older than what I was used to. But she was a darn purty woman. Beautiful both on the outside and on the in. She was someone I could talk to in confidence, and who I knew would keep the cats in the bag. She just had that special kind of personality that could make a believer out of anyone who came into contact with her. Includin’ myself. She was sympathetic, humorous, happy, gregarious, fun, and interestin’ to be with.

An’ I loved her.

She was a waitress at a diner. That’s where I met her. Her husband was over in ‘Nam, fightin’ commies. Well, that was his problem. I had me a lucky star and he didn’t.

And I was determined to make Penelope my wife.

But Penelope had to volunteer to be my wife. I wanted someone who I could trust and talk to, not someone I had to force and be afraid of.


End of Part 2. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 3, and the conclusion to this tale.

The Lonely Wish, Part 1 of 3

We’re now at Story #14, entitled The Lonely Wish, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 3.


Backstory:

I grew up on the move. From the day I was born, to the day of my 18th birthday, my family moved 19 times. And they usually took me with them.

There was that time in the first grade when my brother and I came home from school and our family was gone. A few hours later, as we sat tristfully upon the front porch, my mother pulled up and saved the day. I can’t blame her for forgetting us. She had five kids, pets, and a shitload of possessions to transport. Her brain must have been frazzled.

I changed school 13 times while growing up. Because usually when we moved it was to another town, far away.

We weren’t in the military. Nor were we gypsies. Basically, we were just dirt poor vagabonds. So sometimes we moved because the sheriff had posted an eviction notice on our door.

My stepfather was a drunk, liverish, child-abusing and molesting pervert. I suspect that some of the moving was his attempt to escape his own miserable self. But he was also eternally discontent with his employers. Sometimes he’d move us a hundred miles, just to get a nickel-an-hour more in wages.

And then my mother divorced him. And we moved. And then my mother divorced her next husband, and went back to the pervert. And so we moved again.

I got so accustomed to the vagabond life that I thought it was normal to move around like that. That is until other kids would regard me with astonishment when they discovered how many different schools I’d attended.

But I liked moving. It taught me the fine art of making enemies and then skipping town. Moving gave me the courage of a coward. I could behave with bravado, and then, just when the bullies were plotting a pummeling, I’d stop showing up to school without warning. Because we moved.

In fact, I liked it so much that I continued moving as an adult. From age 18 until age 32, I moved 29 times. I even figured out how to move a lot while in the military, and got myself stationed to three different bases over four years, not counting basic training and tech school.

It was the escape that motivated me to relocate so much. I became addicted to washing my hands of my current situation and starting out anew. I felt safe with noncommitment. And like my stepfather, I might have been trying to get away from myself. Though not for his fucked up reasons.

But deep down inside lay a desire to settle down. And by age 32 I could no longer suppress this yearning. I succumbed to the domestic life. I got married and moved into a house, where I lived contentedly with my wife for the next quarter century, while holding down the same job. We finally moved, but only because it was to a nicer house that my wife inherited. And here we plan to remain until we die.

When I was in my 20’s, the loneliness of the peripatetic life would sometimes well up inside me. And I knew my soul couldn’t survive if I remained fiddlefooted into old age. I pined for an anchor. I wanted someone to give my love to. And for a few fleeting moments my vacant heart would be ready for commitment.

During one of those wistful moments, I pondered how it would feel if this vagabond life were to continue forever. And these ponderings evolved into a plot. And that plot became the basis for a fantastical story. A story that I naturally had to imprison on paper, lest it escape my mind the way I had escaped so many of my addresses.

Come visit this inmate of a story and give it some company. And learn a lesson from a very old man who stayed on the move, and the lonely lengths it drove him to.

 

The Lonely Wish (Beginning)

 

I’m lookin’ for a lady name of Penelope Frooze. Been lookin’ since I was twenty years old. She’s prob’ly a rich woman by now, and she no doubt lives in a mansion. An’ I’ll bet she’s young and beautiful. I’d like to find her again. Because last time I found her, she became the luckiest woman in the world.

I met Penelope in 1969. But it all began more than a hundred years earlier, in 1864. I was 46 years old at that time, an’ just a poor white trash dirt farmer workin’ a spot o’ land down in Georgia. In 1864 the Civil War was breakin’ things up down there in Georgia like a fire at a barn dance.

One day some Yankee soldiers rode onto my farm. These here soldiers were interested in pillagin’. It was Sherman’s way of winnin’ the war. They wanted to loot, murder, and destroy. They tried to kill us all, but I escaped and ran into the woods with two of them soldiers chasin’ me on a’horseback. One of ’em got in a lucky shot and shattered my elbow with a minie ball. I just kept a’runnin in spite of the pain. Into the woods and into the woods, deeper and deeper.

Got away from ’em, but the next day I come back to the farm to see what they’d left behind. Nothin’—there was nothin’. They’d murdered my wife and kids, burned out my crops, and taken all my possessions—what few I had. To pour salt on my wounds, they’d torched my house before they left.

So that’s what I got out of the Civil War. I got a ruined farm, a crippled arm, and a poor little graveyard for my family.

With my crippled arm I wasn’t worth much to no one, not even to myself. So I left my farm and began wanderin’. In my wanderin’s I began to think of just how cruel this here world was to me. And the more I thought about it the more I felt sorry for myself. And then the more depressed I got.

A few years went by though, before I wound up at the end of my rope. By this time I was a half-starved rail of a man, dressed in rags, and sufferin’ from premature old age. I looked old and frail—bait for the wolves. And inside myself I felt even older. By this time my life wasn’t even worth one old Confederate dollar to me. I just felt totally worthless and was ready to put an end to it all.

I went for my last walk on this cruel earth the evenin’ of October 17th, 1866. Walked on over to a little bridge that spanned Fetchtoe creek. The waters of Fetchtoe rushed furiously through a big maze of rocks, so I figured by jumpin’ in, it wouldn’t take long for me to be dashed to pieces and die.

There was a clear, starry sky that October evenin’, and it made me happy to be under it, in spite of my dreary self. The constellations were beautiful—shinin’ so brightly up there. So when I reached the bridge I paused for a few minutes to take the great sparklin’ sight in. It would be the last good thing I’d see, so I figured I should enjoy it while I could.

But then, while lookin’ to the east, I all of a sudden saw somethin’ real strange. It looked to me like one of those night stars out there was bustin’ apart and explodin’. It kept gettin’ bigger and bigger and bigger, and kept throwin’ off all kinds of different colors. It looked red and gold and yellow and green and blue, and shined so bright it took up almost all the eastern horizon.

So I watched with my eyes and mouth a’wide-open at this grand celestial display and began to ask myself why this was happenin’.

And then I thought, perhaps it’s a lucky star. Perhaps it’s one of those stars you hear-tell you can wish upon and things will come true.

Well seein’ that star, and how unusually bright and colorful it was gettin’ to be, anythin’ was beginnin’ to make sense to me. So I figured I’d try it. I figured I’d just make mahself a wish and see if anythin’ come of it.

“Star,” I said. “Star, if you be my lucky star, then I’d like to make me a wish. I wish you could make my crippled arm well again.”

I felt a little silly after makin’ the wish, ’cause I knew I was just indulgin’ in child’s play. But then all of a sudden I felt a warm sensation in my elbow. The same elbow that Yankee soldier put a ball into.

So I tried movin’ my arm up and down, and as sure as catfish live in the mud, it began to work. I swung it up and down with no problems a’tall. There was no stiffness, no pain, nothin’. Just freedom of movement, the way I used to have it.

I looked back up at that star and began cryin’ with happiness. “Thank you star,” I said, “thank you.”

Didn’t kill myself that night. Instead, I went to bed and fell asleep playin’ with my arm. I was a happy man that night, and slept very well.


End of Part 1. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 2.

Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn

Do you believe in unicorns? Some people actually don’t. But the folks in the “Show Me” state of Missouri do. That’s because they’ve actually seen a unicorn. Yes, they’ve been shown. And so as good Missourians, they must believe.

Unicorns come in all shapes and sizes, as you may be well aware if you’ve followed my blog for very long. Because at Chasing Unicorns, if it’s new, wacky, novel, crazy, funny, silly, strange, weird, different, unheard-of, or otherwise unique, it’s a unicorn.

The particular unicorn I’m referring to in this post, comes in the shape of a puppy dog.

Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn is a beagle-mix puppy who was rescued by Missouri animal shelter, Mac’s Mission. Narwhal is very special, because he has a unique little furry horn growing right out of his forehead. And his horn is soft and cuddly, just like a puppy dog’s tail.

They love Narwhal so much at Mac’s Mission, that they’ve decided to keep him. He will not be put up for adoption. Instead, they’re using him as a spokesdog in a “Different is Awesome” campaign. And I agree. Different really is awesome. I believe variety is not just the spice of life, but it’s our very lifeblood. We cannot survive without unicorns like Narwhal.

You can learn more about Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn, by clicking on the link to the news story, below:

https://www.chron.com/news/article/Unicorn-puppy-will-stay-with-Missouri-14878580.php

Death At A Well

This is Story #13, entitled Death at a Well, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


Backstory:

Flash fiction is the art of writing a very short story, or the “short short”. Generally, 1,000 words or less is considered to be flash fiction, although some claim stricter limits. I’ve dabbled in this art a few times, but not nearly as much as Carolyn, in her blog, joyroses13.

I think death is a subject well-suited for short shorts. I mean, why not? Death shortens everything.

In fact, the world’s shortest piece of flash fiction is sometimes touted as this six-word tale: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Legend has it that Earnest Hemingway wrote this tiny work, but this is unlikely, for it first began circulating when he was 10 years old.

I wonder if Hemingway got the attribution because someone wanted to lend literary value to this story. But a six-word tale is hardly literature. After all, there’s no real plot development in a mere six words. It can be argued that to qualify as a genuine short story, the writer must invest enough words to immerse the reader in a plot, and leave them with the sense that they’ve been involved in a complete story.

I once read that the world’s shortest story, containing enough plot development and enduring appeal to qualify as a bona fide work of literature, is an ancient Arabian fable. And of course, it’s about death. This fable has been written in different ways, but here’s a 176-word version:

 

Appointment In Samarra

 

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market. Shortly, the servant came back, white and trembling.

“Master, just now when I was in the marketplace, I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned I saw it was Death. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture! Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra, and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, dug his spurs in its flanks, and as fast as the horse could gallop, he went. Then the merchant went to the marketplace, and saw Death standing in the crowd, and confronted her.

“Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture. It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

 

###

 

The first time I read this story, and learned that it was the world’s shortest short story, I decided to break the record. I wanted to immortalize my name, by writing a story even shorter than this. A story that would have substantive plot development and enduring appeal. So I wrote my own tale about Death.

But wordmongering got the best of me. I was undisciplined. I indulged in too much verbosity and failed to beat the record.

So like the Baghdad servant, the name of Tippy Gnu is doomed.

What follows is my 460-word failed attempt at immortality, with my own piece of flash fiction about an encounter with Death.

Death At A Well

 

One day, Death on horseback rode out of the desert to a certain house where a man had a well. He appeared parched thirsty and asked the man for a drink. Being very afraid of Death, the man was quick to allow permission, and Death dipped a drink from the well.

“I’ll make you a deal,” said Death, after he finished swallowing. “If you save this well for me alone, and let no others taste from it, I will make you immortal.”

Naturally this keeper of the well desired eternal life, so he eagerly agreed.

Thereafter he had to fight off many a person. Usually passing strangers who desperately needed water after a long, hot ride through the desert. He killed most of them, but they never succeeded at harming him. He was immortal, but they did not know that, or they would not have fought him. And none of them ever got a drop from his well.

He turned aside hundreds of travelers who had depended on his well for water. Most of those who did not die fighting him, perished of thirst later. Only a few ever survived.

However those few spread the word, and eventually the well developed a reputation for being inaccessible. Thus travelers came less and less often, and there were fewer and fewer people for the keeper to kill. Until finally, no travelers passed through the area anymore.

One morning the keeper of the well spied a lone horseman approaching from the desert. When the rising sun glinted off the white bones, he knew the rider to be his friend, Death. The keeper waved a hand of greeting as Death grew closer. But Death did not acknowledge it.

Death rode his black horse to the edge of the yard and drew a long bow made from a rib bone, and an arrow made from an arm bone. He took aim at the surprised keeper of the well and shot him through the stomach.

The wound was mortal, but the keeper still had a few breaths of life in him. With fading eyes, he looked up at Death and asked why he had not lived up to his end of the deal.

“I have lived up to the deal. Did I not say that no one should drink from the well, but me?”

“And no one has,” the man sputtered.

“A lie. Since we made the deal I have watched the well every day. And every day I have seen you, yourself, dip the bucket into the well and quench your own thirst.”

Suddenly the keeper comprehended his mistake, and a fire of realization burned in his eyes.

But a chilly wind from the mouth of Death blew the fire out.

The Calculus of Love

This is Story #12, entitled The Calculus of Love, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


Backstory:

What can be weirder than someone who fanatically brushes and flosses their teeth? Yes, I do that. But at least I’m not as obsessed as the young man in this story.

When I visit my Registered Dental Hygienist for my semiannual prophylaxis, I always hope my kempt teeth will impress her. But only because I’m proud of my impeccable oral hygiene. But the young man in this tale has a different motivation. He’s in love with his RDH.

He reminds me of someone I knew many years ago. Myself. I was a weirdo when it came to matters of love and romance. Just like him. When I fell for a woman, I employed courting strategies more likely to attract a psychiatrist, than the heart I aimed for.

And that’s what inspired this story. One evening I was brushing my teeth and fantasizing about what weirdo things a young nerd might do to win over the heart of the lady who scrapes his teeth. This tale illustrates my youthful weirdness. It’s what I imagined I might do, if I was that young nerd.

The Calculus of Love

 

He was fastidious. He brushed his teeth after every meal. And he flossed every day, without exception. And his main reason for doing this for the past six months was not to have healthy incisors, cuspids, and molars. Sure, that was important to him, but he would never have taken such extreme care of his teeth just for that reason.

No, his main reason was to impress his dental hygienist.

He was in love with her. A secret love. He felt too bashful to admit it, or to ask her out on a date. Why, she was just too winsome and prepossessing to ever have any interest in a nerdy little guy like him. Or so he assumed.

He regarded himself as unworthy, and felt hopeless. But not completely hopeless. Because he had a plan. A plan to win her heart.

He calculated that if he took excellent care of his teeth, it would impress her so much that she wouldn’t be able to resist him. She’d fall helplessly in love with him and pursue him. And all he’d have to do is let her catch him.

Ironically, his calculus was to rid himself of calculus. And then he’d have love. Which admittedly, was a stupid plan. But men who are in love aren’t known for clear thinking.

He came in for his semiannual prophylaxis. His professional cleaning of teeth that were already spotless. He smugly settled himself into the Naugahyde dental chair, and opened wide, anticipating a gasp of amazement and awe at his flawless set of ivories.

She finished reviewing his chart, then moved to his side and peered into his mouth. But no gasp of amazement and awe issued forth.

Instead she smiled warmly. “So, what have you been up to these past six months,” she routinely asked, as she reached for a sharp, pointy object.

“Giglesmlsxsuh,” he replied, as he tried to speak while simultaneously accommodating the poky tool that was now probing his teeth.

“So,” she continued, “I’ve heard that less and less people are buying PC’s, and are instead opting for smartphones and tablets.”

She knew he was a computer hobbyist. In fact, she knew a lot of things about him. She had his personal history written down in his chart. And every time he revealed something new about himself, she stealthily took note, so she could bring it up in small talk at a future cleaning session.

This is an old ploy by dental hygienists. It’s a personal touch designed to mislead their patients into believing that they are somehow special, to be remembered so clearly. She hoped he felt impressed.

And he did. He fell for it. Every time. The moonstruck nerd took it as a sign that she liked him. That he stood a chance. Even though deep down inside, he knew he was unworthy.

“Inssutrudathig,” he answered.

The session continued, with much probing, poking, scraping, rinsing and spitting. Finally, after the torture ended, he asked smugly, “So, how did I do?” as if he had just taken a test that he knew he had aced.

“How did you do? What do you mean?”

“I mean, how did I do? Any calculus?”

“Oh. Oh yes, yes, there was quite a bit of calculus. Between the front four teeth at the bottom two quadrants. But that’s common,” she shrugged.

He felt crestfallen. “Were they at least better than last time?”

“Oh sure,” she reassured him. “Yes, I think you’re making an improvement. Keep up the good work. And I’ll see you again in six months.” She thrust a baggie at him, containing a complimentary toothbrush and small dispenser of floss.

He hung his head, feeling discouraged, and trudged out of the office.

But this setback didn’t stop him from continuing to try. After all, she had advised him to keep up the good work. So he doubled and tripled his efforts, brushing not just after every meal, but also after every snack. And right after waking up, and right before going to bed. In fact, he brushed so much, he had to replace his toothbrush every two or three weeks.

And now he flossed two, three, and sometimes four times a day. He even bought floss in bulk, over the internet. And he cut out all sweets. For he was very determined to win his hygienist’s heart.

After six months of this fanatical pearl polishing, it was time for his next visit. He assumed the position in the reclining Naugahyde chair. She hovered over his gaping mouth, with a sharp, hooked instrument held menacingly before his eyes. Then she plunged it in, picking, poking, and scraping.

She kept up a monologue about things she thought might impress him, based upon his personal history she had just reviewed in her chart. And he occasionally offered up garbled responses.

It was all very routine.

But his heart was pounding, throbbing, twittering. He kept expecting her to compliment him on the excellent way he’d kept his teeth so very perfectly clean. Surely she must be noticing.

But nothing. No compliments came. Was she blind?!

When she finished, he once again asked for the verdict on the calculus, crossing his fingers and hoping that this time she had found absolutely none. But no, there was calculus. Dammit, there was calculus!

Considerable calculus, she reported, on the backs and between teeth numbers 23 through 26. Perhaps he needed to focus more attention on these areas while flossing, she advised. But not to worry, she reassured, for most people get calculus in that area, despite their best efforts.

Well fuck it, he thought. And then he just couldn’t take it anymore. His eyeballs welled up. And as she handed him the baggie with the toothbrush and floss, the dam broke. He began to cry.

“Are you alright?!” her eyes widened. She seemed shocked.

“Yes, yes, I am,” he felt embarrassed and waved his hand back and forth, trying to ward her gaze away. Then his face scrunched up and he began sobbing hard, with convulsive shakes of his shoulders. “No, no, I’m not,” he shakily admitted. “I’m n-n-not.”

“Wh-what’s wrong?” she handed him a tissue. She felt horrified.

He wiped his nose. And between convulsive sniffles he declared, “I don’t wanna keep doing all that teeth brushing. And the flossing is so hard to keep up. I’m tired of it. I’m tired. I’m just so tired.” he pounded a fist on his knee.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have felt surprised, for brushing and flossing teeth truly is a pain in the ass. But she’d never had a patient react this emotionally to the American Dental Association’s official recommendations for oral hygiene, that she routinely repeated to those who occupied the Naugahyde chair.

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey,” she reassured, “If you want to skip a teeth brushing or flossing once in awhile, it’s okay. It won’t make that big of a difference. Now you just calm down,” she implored. “I can’t believe you’re so worked up about this.”

He looked up at her with his tear-streamed face. “No, you don’t understand. I’ve been trying to impress you. I like you, and I wanted to go out with you. But no matter how good I take care of my teeth, you never seem to notice. I always keep having calculus. That damned calculus!” he angrily shook his fist at no one. “So I don’t think you’d ever want to go out with me.”

Upon hearing this admission of secret love, the dental hygienist took a startled step backward. Her mouth agape, all she could do was stare at him for about thirty seconds, as he hung his head, while dabbing away at tears with his snot-soaked tissue.

Then she did an about-face, and turned her back to him. She covered her nose and mouth with her hands and bowed her head in thought. She pondered this odd situation. After about a minute, she suddenly whipped back around and looked him square in the eye, with severe demeanor.

“Hey, if you want to ask me out, just ask me out. You don’t have to do any of this other shit. Stop your fucking crying, and just ask me out to a dinner, a movie, or something like that. Don’t play no fucking crybaby games with me.”

Now it was his turn to feel stunned. And he instantly stopped crying. His eyes expanded. He was speechless. Could it be, he wondered. Could it be that she would actually go out with me? His heart skipped a beat.

She turned slightly away, as if she was giving up on him. He knew this was his kairos. He must act now. Now, now, now, or never.

“How about Chili’s?” he blurted out. “Tonight. Seven o’clock.”

Thus began a romance between a dental hygienist and her nerdy patient. They dated for several months, before finally deciding to live together. And during this budding romance, they learned some surprising things about each other.

She learned that nerdy computer hobbyists can also be interesting. And they can have big hearts. And they possessed a level of gratitude that made them very attentive and compliant while playing between the bedsheets. Or at least, this was the case with this particular computer hobbyist.

And during one of their true confession conversations, he learned something surprising about her. He learned just how well all that brushing and flossing of his teeth actually worked. For she divulged a professional secret.

She told him that the picking, and prodding, and scraping of his teeth that she had tortured him with during cleaning sessions, was all for show. She confessed to him that in reality, he’d had no calculus to scrape off, anywhere on his incisors, or cuspids, or molars. No, in fact she felt very impressed with how clean his teeth always were, whenever he came in for his semiannual prophylaxis.

She admitted that she had lied when she told him there was considerable calculus behind those bottom teeth. It was her way of keeping him as a patient. After all, if she were to tell him that he never had calculus, he might decide he didn’t need her anymore. And she’d lose a patient. A good patient. Someone who was easy to work on.

He felt a flame of outrage upon learning this, as he reflected on all the pain he’d endured as a victim of this fraud. But she tamped down this flame, by pumping up his ego.

She told him that she rarely dated, and would absolutely never, ever, go out with any patient who came in with lots of calculus on their teeth. And that most of her patients did have lots of calculus. And that the only reason she had agreed to date him was because of how impressed she felt with his immaculate oral health.

And there it was. His stupid plan, his calculus, wasn’t so stupid after all. His calculus had rid himself of calculus. And that solved for him the most perplexing calculus problem of all.

The calculus of love.

No Exception

This is Story #11, entitled No Exception, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


Backstory:

I’ve never been in good health. Or so I imagine. It could be that I’m just a hypochondriac. Or maybe I’m imagining that, too. But if I am, I inherited this disease from my mother.

She’s the pill-popping type of hypochondriac. Me, I stay as far away from pharmaceuticals as I can. I eschew pills, due to their many side effects and unpredictable interactions with other pills. And I don’t like doctors. I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to kill me if I give them the chance.

No, I’m the researcher type of hypochondriac. I’ve burned through medical encyclopedias, cover-to-cover, trying to figure out what strange, rare disease it is that has plagued me all my life. So far I haven’t unriddled the mystery, but when I do I’ll be treating myself rather than visiting some quack in a white lab coat. Because I’m no fool.

My mother has often repeated her story of that time when I lived in her belly. She claims she had cancer, and that her doctor had advised her to have an abortion. And she claims that due to her opposition to abortion, she refused to end her pregnancy. Instead, she left her fate and mine to God’s will.

Thus, due to a miracle from God, and my mother’s love, I am here today breathing life. At least that’s the story my mother would have me believe. And I did believe it for many years.

But don’t go thinking this made me a faithful follower of my mother’s religion, or a guilt-ridden son who would do anything to make his poor, sick mother happy. Oh no. Her story did not inspire such gratitude.

Instead, I wondered if my strange and rare disease that I’ve always suspected I have, didn’t originate in the womb. After all, maybe the reason she was so sick was because there was something wrong with her fetus. And maybe that’s a good reason to have an abortion. Not for the protection of the mother, but for the protection of a child that might have to go through life in poor health.

And this thought inspired me to write this little piece of flash fiction.

But one caveat. One day I took my nose out of the family medical encyclopedia and asked my Munchausen mother if I had been born by C-Section, or natural childbirth. She hesitated, as if she was searching her memory. Finally she ponderously answered that it was “na-tur-al child-birth.” Strange, that answer. I could have sworn she had mentioned a C-Section on some prior occasion.

Over the years, I’ve asked her several more times. Each time the story changes. Sometimes it was C-Section, and other times it was natural childbirth. It occurs to me that my mother has taken so many pills, from all her imagined ailments, that it’s severely affected her memory.

And so that has put her whole abortion story in a questionable light. My father was asked about it once, and he said it was bullshit. And it probably is, knowing my father’s way of calling out bullshit, and my mother’s way of dishing it out.

But my father’s calling out of bullshit was too late. I had already written the following story, based upon the bullshit. I wrote it with a mission in mind to warn potential mothers of the perils of strict adherence to moral rules.

This didactic tale warns of the consequences that can occur, when a sick woman steadfastly and inflexibly refuses to have an abortion.

No Exception

 

She couldn’t do it. She refused to have an abortion, despite her doctor’s wishes. Her doctor had warned her that if she didn’t have an abortion she would probably die.

She had never been so sick from a pregnancy before in her life. But to abort, well, it was unthinkable. The laws of God forbade it.

These laws of God had been instilled in her mind from youth. Carefully placed there by the stern teachings of her religious leaders. And from these laws there grew a fear in her of risking the wrath and vengeance of a God who sought to protect all of His children. Including the child of God now growing within her own body.

Her fear and her faith were unwavering. They stood as a powerful citadel, buttressing all efforts, all urgings, and all pleadings from those who wanted her to live. Her doctor, her family and her friends all counseled her that sometimes it’s wise to make exceptions to even the strictest of rules. And they were sure God, in all His love, would understand.

But she remained obdurate. She refused abortion. Her fear and faith in the teachings of her upbringing could not be overcome. And so she would risk her own life for the flesh and blood growing inside her.

She would make no exception.

The months passed and she became sicker. She was feeling gravely ill almost every moment of her waking days. It scared her to be so ill, and yet she stubbornly held to her firm resolution. She would not kill human life. She could not murder this child of God growing inside her. Even though it was slowly murdering her.

She would make no exception.

The time came. She was finally in her ninth month of pregnancy. She was in the delivery room in an advanced stage of labor. She was in pain, but at the same time she felt relieved. To her this was the lifting of a burden. It was the saving of her soul. It was the unfolding of a miracle. It was vindication.

And as she lay on the table, she had the exhilarating feeling of one who had just saved someone’s life. The life of a child of God.

And she had made no exception.

Her doctor told her to bear down. She thought of the baby. Soon she would be cuddling the pink infant in her arms. Breathe. She smiled as she wondered what to name it. Breathe. She thought of the beauty of giving birth to human life. Breathe.

Especially since this was such an exceptional birth.

It was coming out. The once condemned child was coming easily out, head first—a perfect birth. The doctor pulled the infant from the womb. He raised his eyebrows as he lifted this child of God up high for the mother to see.

It was alive, kicking and waving.

With all three legs and all four arms.

Rule Number Seventeen

This is Story #10, entitled Rule Number Seventeen, from my book, Go West or Go Weird.


Backstory:

I was running out of money and realized I would soon have to sell my underground log cabin, get a job, and rejoin the rat race. So I investigated new careers.

Broadcasting had been my first career, where I rode gain on 45’s and LP’s as a country music disc jockey. Then I joined the Air Force and worked for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service on a four-year hitch.

But I felt reluctant to return to broadcasting. In the military it was a cushy job that avoided grunt work. But as a civilian, the pay was poor, unless one was talented and lucky enough to be hired in a large market, such as Los Angeles or New York City. And I hated big cities. In fact, I hated metropolises so much, the thought of achieving great success in broadcasting felt depressing.

So I tried to find a career that paid well, while allowing me to live in a small town. Yep, I wanted it both ways. Grab that cake and eat it, too.

One career I considered was insurance. But then I learned what insurance adjusters do, and my conscience guided me away from this career avenue.

But the insurance career continued to fascinate me. It paid well enough, but it required a cold heart and unempathetic, no-nonsense business acumen. It fascinated me that quite a few other careers that paid well, were also like this.

I felt inspired. Not inspired to pursue such a career. Hell no. Rather, I was inspired to write the following story. This is an allegory about a dystopian society. In this chiller, insurance has become lethal, and cold-hearted underwriters keep cold-handed undertakers rich and busy.

Rule Number Seventeen

 

A man in a black suit stepped out of the grayness of the night. He was carrying a valise. He walked up to the front door of a house and knocked. Three sharp, loud, commanding knocks.

The man who answered was wearing blue jeans and a white teeshirt. He had a big belly and an unshaven jaw.

He peered at the man in black.

“Yeah?”

“Are you Nolan Nailtharp?”

“Who are YOU? What do you want?”

“Are you Mr. Nailtharp, sir?”

“You some kind of bill collector?”

The man in black reached inside his valise and pulled out a piece of paper with a picture on it. He looked at the man in the white teeshirt. He looked at the picture. He nodded his head and put the paper with the picture back inside the valise. Then he pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the man.

“Hey, hey, careful there. I’m Nailtharp all right. What do you want? I’ll try to help you!”

There was a silencer on the pistol. So it merely sounded like a twig had snapped. A small stab of flame. The man in the white teeshirt opened his eyes up wide. Then he fell to the floor and died.

Through the gray night and up the stairs of an apartment building, the man in the black suit stepped. He came to a door on the second floor. He knocked. Three sharp, loud, commanding knocks.

The door opened a small crack, and a little head poked out and looked up at the man in black.

“Excuse me,” he said, “are you Sonya?”

“Yeeessss . . . !” she said.

He looked at her. She was only three years old, but she should know her own name by now. He reached inside his valise and pulled out a piece of paper with a picture on it. Yes, yes, it was her. A little older. But same face. Same curly blonde hair. Yes.

“Is your mother home, Sonya?”

“Nooooo! She’s watching a moobie! Wif Jim! She’s in the bedwoom!”

“Gooood! I tell you what—let’s go for a walk.”

He reached down and grabbed her by the hand. He led her downstairs. He was very gentle and slow with her, because she was so small. And she did not resist. She was glad to have a friend.

When they got to the bottom of the stairs and walked outdoors, he found a dark corner of the building. The security lights didn’t reach deep into that corner, so that’s where he led Sonya. Then he took his pistol out of his valise and put it against her head. There was a small snapping sound, and that was all.

A man sipped coffee at his kitchen table. Suddenly, there was a knock at his door. Three slow knocks. He opened the door and it was the man in black. He invited him in and the man in black sat at the table. He poured coffee for him, and they both sat there for a little while, sipping and chatting. Making small talk about the weather, and current events, and such things that men talk about after their work is done and they need to rest and relax.

After a bit, the man in black pulled out of his valise two pieces of paper with pictures on them.

“Here you are—both jobs are complete.”

“Thank you. I trust you did very well.”

The man in black ignored the compliment. “Hey,” he said, “can you tell me something about this one?” He pointed at the picture of the little girl.

The other man said, “Just a moment.”

He walked over to a gray filing cabinet and pulled out a portfolio. He looked it over, then back at the picture, and shook his head. “This can be a hard job,” he said. “It’s too bad, but some people seem to forget what’s at stake. They forget they’ve staked their own life, or the life of someone they love. They just don’t seem to take us insurance people seriously. But we gotta make a living too, you know.

“Yeah . . .” he looked inside the portfolio again.

“Yeah, it seems about a year ago this dame wanted to get married. But her fiancé didn’t trust her. So they came to us, and she said she’d stake the life of her own daughter that she’d be true to him. So, about two weeks ago he comes to the claims adjustment department I guess, with proof that she’d been stepping out. They verified his evidence and gave the job to my division. So I gave you the assignment. You don’t let sentiment get in your way you know. That makes you the best claims adjuster I’ve got.”

Not even a smile from the man in black. He was all business, that man. He never seemed to notice a compliment, no matter how hard the adjustment manager tried.

The adjustment manager pointed at the other picture and chuckled. “I remember that man. About six months ago he went to a bank and asked for a loan at the prime rate. Didn’t have no collateral, so he offered to stake his own life on the loan. Bank took him right up on it, like they always do. Damn good interest rate, too. Guess he didn’t take the bank’s insurance policy too seriously.

“That’s the trouble with some people. About 99% of our accounts go unclaimed. Most people take us damned serious and they always meet their obligations. But there’s always that one percent who don’t think we’re for real, and let things slide. That’s what keeps you and me in business. Especially when I have a good claims adjuster like you.”

No response. The claims adjuster in the black suit straightened his jaw and stood up. “Guess I should go now,” he said. He put on his coat.

“All right. See you tomorrow. I’ve got three jobs for you to do tomorrow. Looks like we’re having kind of a busy week.”

The claims adjuster left, and the adjustment manager went back to the table and sat down. He thought for a few minutes, then went over to the gray filing cabinet and pulled out the portfolio on himself.

He didn’t like it, but it was a company rule. In order to work for the insurance company, he had to take out a policy on himself, issued by the company.

Really it was more like an agreement. But an agreement with teeth, because it was written like a policy. Just like any policy a client would have. In the policy, he agreed to follow a list of rules. And he staked his life on the promise that he would follow those rules.

He reread the rules on a regular basis, just as a safeguard so that he would not accidentally break one. After all, his life was at stake. One can’t be too cautious with something like that.

There were twenty rules in all, but it was rule number seventeen that always bothered him. Number seventeen he always reread over and over again.

It was the fraternization rule. In that, he agreed not to fraternize with his subordinates in any manner, as this could create a “conflict of interest.”

He looked over at the coffee cup that the claims adjuster had been sipping from. It was half empty.

No, no, not really fraternization, he thought. After all, he had to get along with his claims adjusters. Promotes the morale of the department. Not fraternization at all. Business, pure business. And if he didn’t do this, he might get on the bad side of his claims adjusters. And he didn’t really trust them that much. After all, they were professional killers, and what if one of them should develop a grudge against him?

He put his portfolio away.

No not fraternization at all, he told himself again.

His job was so nice. He worked out of his own home. He set his own hours. He belonged to a generous retirement plan. And he would not allow a claims adjuster get in his way and spoil that. He would not get on a claims adjuster’s bad side.

He had to get along with his claims adjusters, or else. Or else face some possible deadly consequences. Surely they understood that when they wrote rule number seventeen.

A little while later he washed out the coffee cup and went to bed. He didn’t sleep well that night. But then again, adjustment managers never did.

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