Life is an Unplanned March…

…but there are companions on the way.

**********

Sometimes, you make a friend in grade school. She, like you, is tall—taller than the other girls, who are cute, tiny people that boys want to protect.

You, Amazon girl, will never need protecting in that particular way, which makes you kind of sad when you’re 11, 12, and 13, but kind of proud when you are 20, 35, and 50.

Your friend doesn’t need protecting either. And she also comes from a sprawling family that isn’t always polite…that, in fact, sometimes screams and yells and slams doors or pounds out to the ten-year-old sedan and drives off, screeching. Neither of your mothers owns pearls or looks like June Cleaver.

But you both prefer your families to the postcard-perfect ones that surely have plaster slathered over their cracks. Our families, you assure each other, are REAL families.

And this friend sticks with you through grade school, through the awful, awkward days of middle school, and through the hormone-driven high school years.

**********

Sometimes, you are really, really lucky, and that friend stays with you beyond that, stays through early marriage and young divorce and the terrible transition, then the choosing of a mate who gets it, who understands what you’ve learned in a tasking school. She’s there when kids are born, when you cry over the challenges of step-parenting…challenges you find yourself failing to meet, time and again.

That friend sends letters in your twenties. When you’re in your thirties, you come home one day and find six perfect quarts of raspberries at your doorstep, gleaming like deep red jewels. Your friend zipped through town; she didn’t have time to visit, but she had time to leave you a wonderful gift.

You freeze berries and make pies all that winter, and those pies taste brightly of lifelong friendship.

She sends you birthday cards when you are 42; she cries with you when your never-like-a-sitcom-mom mother dies.

You help each other, even from a distance, over rough spots and tragedies, and you’re there to help each other NOT to mourn as you slough off childhood veneers—false fronts that may once have been cute, but that now, you realize, have nothing to do with what’s important, or what, ultimately, is beautiful.

When you look at that friend now, you see a young and yearning girl, and you see a wise and weathered woman, and you see the whole continuum between.

Sometimes, you are lucky enough to have a friend like that.

*******

Sometimes, you make friends in grade school and in high school and they are so important. You can’t imagine life without them. And then comes college and there are so many different forks in the road, so many choices. And each choice you make takes you further down a path that leads you away from people who were once integral, and who grow, now, far, far away.

Sometimes, friendships, even the most dear ones, slip away.

*********

Sometimes you make work friends…people with whom you share inside jokes and with whom you complain behind the cranky boss’s back. You weave yourselves into each other’s lives; you’re there for weddings and break-ups, baby births and parent deaths. You offer and accept rides, and you go out after stressful work events and quaff, together, one too many foaming brews.

Often, you spend more time with these work friends than you do with family members—eight intense hours a day, usually: who can say they spend that kind of engaged time with family?

**********

And then life sighs and shifts, and your job changes.

Sometimes, the ties, once so tight, ravel. The threads spin undone; they are fragile, gossamer, like milkweed thistle. Breeze lifts them. And the people who very recently inhabited your every day now live in different realms.

**********

But sometimes, the threads don’t break; they stay strong. And those people you met through work are woven firmly into your big picture tapestry.

**********

Sometimes it happens like that with friends you meet in grad school, or through your husband’s grad work, or through your children’s schools. Sometimes you make friends through church or through clubs or community connections. Sometimes, students become friends. Sometimes, even, you meet people through on-line activities, through blogs and forums and classes, faraway people, but ones who share beliefs and humor and excitement about the same things that compel you.

Sometimes you think those friends are true life-longers, and you’re wrong, and sometimes, people you never suspected might sneak in, do. They sneak in; they fill that one empty, ache-y spot. They surprise you.

And they stay.

**********

And sometimes, after life has done a masterful job of tumbling you, when you are polished and molded in ways you couldn’t have imagined twenty, thirty, FORTY years ago,—sometimes, friends come back.

They come back because, maybe, there’s a class reunion.

They come back because, maybe, there’s a catastrophic or climactic event that circles around someone you both loved dearly.

They come back, maybe, because social media makes it possible.

And you realize then that that friendship didn’t fade. It just stretched, on and on, through years and miles, in silent, transparent threads stronger than the webs that spiders weave.

Waiting threads, pending the right time, the time when all the busy days of career and kids and noisy bustle have settled down—the time when you sit your butt down in front of the fire and think, “What’s really important here?

And you look to your family, of course.

And you define, now, at last, when time and resources allow, what you really mean by ‘work.’

And you think about your friendships.

You thank the good sweet Lord for that steadfast friend who always stayed. And you marvel at the people you met along the way, the exact right people at the exact needing time. When you think about the ones that became permanent parts of your hectic, unpredictable life, you get more than a little misty. You feel more than a little undeserving and more than a little blessed.

And you giving up trying to understand why, and you just accept the lovely, warming truth of the people who return. You get it, now; it’s really true. You’ve got people, wonderfully different, variously gifted, constantly surprising, and always precious people.

They will be there for you when it’s time to celebrate.

They will hold you up when the mourning sinks like a weight too great to bear, lands in the basin of your belly, and knocks you, helpless, to the ground.

And they will be there in the everyday, in the ordinary irritations of dishes left in sink, undone, and snarky acquaintances, and roads that need to have pot-holes patched, and in the tiny joys of new curtains and way-finding and family triumphs.

You didn’t earn this; you didn’t anticipate it, and yet, it’s yours: this amazing team.

************

Life, for many of us, is an unplanned march.

But there are companions on the way.

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…That’s the Way I Spell ‘Success’

(Because I haven’t reached out to the folks or their families, and because the information here’s a little bit personal, I’m altering the names of the real and wonderful people about whom I write.)

*****

My mother, when I was growing up, had herself a frienemy.

Oh, of course, we didn’t call the relationship that then, but that’s what they were, my mom and Thea–frienemies.  I have to think they really, deep down, loved each other–why else would they keep calling, keep visiting, keep plugging away at a relationship that seem to chafe them both?

Thea’s kids were all around the same age as my mother’s own darling offspring, and they were all–sigh–so much BETTER.  They got good grades, and they didn’t get rides home in police cars, and they didn’t rip their pants climbing chain link fences to get out of places where they shouldn’t have been in the first place.  They didn’t roll their skirts up to mini length as soon as they were out of sight of the house. Their breaths didn’t smell suspiciously wine-y or malt-y, never mind a thick overlay of sweet spray mouthwash, after Friday night football games. And they didn’t provoke evening phone calls to parents from school personnel, unless the call was to tell Thea and her husband that their child had earned yet another scholarship, award, or academic kudo.

When the school called our house, the room quickly cleared. My older brothers–oh, they were unfeeling!–would send one of us younger ones back in as sacrificial scouts after the receiver banged back into place.  If the canary stopped singing, those bad boys would stay out of the mine a little bit longer.

****************

And, the next day, maybe, Mom and Thea would wind up chatting on the phone, again.  Comparisons would commence.

Thea would call Mom, say, to tell her how wonderfully well parent conferences went, and then she’d ask, with gleeful concern, how Mom had enjoyed hers. Of course, when Thea talked to teachers, she heard things like, “A joy to have in class!”

When my mama went to conferences, she heard…

…Not working up to potential.

…More interested in socializing than in schoolwork.

…Messy.

…Missing work.

…Attitude needs adjustment.

The Mom/Thea kid-comparisons lasted until well after we all left school.  Some of us bumbled around, discovering ourselves.  Some others charted a course, followed it, and quickly secured career advancement.

I leave it to you to guess whose kids did which.

One day–I was teaching middle school at the time–I stopped in to visit mom and interrupted her on the phone with Thea.

“Well,” my mother was sputtering, “well, maybe my kids aren’t all successful.  But at least I think they’re HAPPY!”

She slammed down the phone and turned and smiled at me.  “Coffee?” she asked.

***************
I certainly didn’t debate it with my mother at the time, but her statement has stayed with me all those years.  What IS being a success, after all, if it isn’t being happy?

But happiness shouldn’t be a contest, and, I’m thinking, neither should success. This whole line of thought gets me to pondering the people I’ve known whom  I can honestly and unequivocally call successful.  The trappings that society considers requisite for success don’t really apply.  To be successful, I think, you have to set goals and meet them–or, have the wisdom to know your goals are wrong and change them.  To be successful, you have to be willing to try and fail and try again–and know that failure is a real and potentially permanent possibility.  To be successful, you need to know yourself and to have the courage to stay true to whatever it is that means.

It’s the rare person who does all that consistently.  I don’t always, or even often, reach all those high notes.

But I’ve known folks who have, and did, and do.

***************

I knew, for instance, Dan and Jessica, who never bought a single thing on time.  They had seen the world–Dan had been in the service and stationed in Europe. I was so impressed that the little downstairs powder room in their lovely house sported a wooden sign that read, “WC.”

Ah, that’s class, I thought: who in the States calls their half bathroom a water closet? Dan and Jessica had traveled. They’d been there.

They had a houseful of books, a houseful of music, a houseful of art, and a house full of rich conversation.  Dan was the maintenance guy at the little private school where I taught; he was a gifted ‘fixer,’ but never too busy to put down his tool belt to discuss the merits of a poem I’d just lettered on the bulletin board in the hallway.  He was a poet himself, and he crafted odes to celebrate all kinds of events–entries and exits, commencements and commemorations.  I remember his poem to celebrate the first time a goat visited the school, and I remember its historic refrain:

There’s goat doo-doo down in the hall.

Jessica taught; the two of them entertained; they continued to do some traveling; and together they raised three wonderful children.  The first time they ever took out a loan was when the oldest one went off to college. And you can bet those bright, funny, hard-working kids worked their butts off, got and maintained scholarships, and paid back, in giant ways, their parents’ faith in them.

Long after we moved away, we learned that Dan had died, much too young.  But what a lot of living he and Jessica packed into their years together–what integrity and passion.  What laughter, and what fun.

In the Dictionary of Pam, when you look up ‘success,’ you’ll see pictures of Jessica and Dan.

*************
I knew a man named Luke who had absolutely no reason to be happy, and yet he was. Luke was dying from AIDs by the time I met him; he dragged a long and hurtful past behind him.  He’d made mistakes; he’d learned some big things–bigger things than most of us ever have to tussle with.  He’d forged a fierce authenticity in a fire that had raged overly bright.

We met at a soup kitchen run by our church.  I believed in organization and lists and volunteers signed up for shifts.  I believed in meal planning and smart shopping and counting the cost. I believed our hands were the only hands God had on earth–and that we had better keep them washed and busy.

Luke believed–he really, really did–that God would provide, and that a spirit of radical hospitality was more important than counting out the chicken breasts.  It was all, he would assure me, going to work out anyway.

The two of us worked the kitchen together for a couple of years.  We drove each other crazy.  We disagreed on lots of things–but never on the dignity of the people whom we served.

It worked out, as it turned out, really well.

Luke had a tiny apartment a block or so away from the church, which was good because he had no car. He had thrift shop clothes and hand-me-down furniture and he could tell you stories about winters, back during the time he lived in New England, when he couldn’t pay for heat and there was truly and literally nothing to eat in his house.  He hadn’t acquired a whole lot of material goods since those days, but he had learned a deep and abiding faith, and he had come to accept himself. He kept a prayer wall, Luke did, where he wrote, in Sharpie, the names of everyone he cared about and everyone who needed prayer and all the causes he just ached to see resolved.  He could see the lists from his bed; when he felt too sick to get up, he would stretch out and read the names and send up prayers.

And then, a day or two would pass, and Luke would feel better.  He’d get up and come back to church and tell me I was too fussy, the way I peeled potatoes.

Luke bounced back so many times that I just knew, deep in my knowing, that he was going to be around a long, long time.

But of course, he wasn’t.  He died way too young; he died way too soon.  And he died having made a far-rippling impact.  He taught a congregation about acceptance and grief and a kind of hospitality that says I don’t CARE how badly you smell or how funny you talk or whether your filters aren’t firmly in place: it just doesn’t matter. You are welcome here, my friend.

Luke lived his beliefs, stayed true through pain and neglect and deeply wounding sadness, found faith, built family, left us way too soon.  Luke, too: success.

**********

Successful? Hey, I know people.

I know someone, for instance, who works to reunite broken families.  Her methods, which are creative, maybe a little unconventional, are sometimes frowned upon by a canon-bound establishment. But they are compassionate methods, and ones that keep people safe.  They are methods that work. She often celebrates success.

I know a woman, born to wealth, who spent her career educating people to go out and build themselves better lives, and who, in retirement, insures her family’s funds help others.

I know a man who yearned, despite Fate’s other plans, to go to law school; he passed the Bar the week that he turned 50.

I know a school counselor who never gives up on her students–who pours her heart and soul and being into getting them on the path to success.  Sometimes, she has to testify in court. But often, she is dancing at their weddings.

I know a woman who happens to have Stage Four cancer but has never–not for one day–let that define her.

I know a mother who survived the unthinkable suicide of a child; she now works to promote better understanding of mental health issues in young people.

I know a person who, deprived of the opportunity to have a traditional family, opened his arms to lost sheep and lonely souls. He built a family, person by person, heart by heart. It is one of the strongest, most loving family groups I’ve ever seen.

I know people who reach deep into the pits of their gifts and talents, and who bring up treasures clutched in both hands.  They use their words, their music, their ability to teach, their compassion, their parenting skills, their creativity, their movement, their awareness.  They have wrestled with the Meaning Demon long and hard.  They have been victorious.  Their words and sounds and touch and thoughts enrich the lives of those they reach and nurture and respond to.

Still wrestling with the Demon myself, I am blessed with all these role models.  I hope to reach that plateau, that victory platform, where I can join them and say, at last, “Success!”

Right now, I can say, “Working on it.”

But my mother was right. Mostly, and blessedly, I’ve been happy.

*********
I know some other people, too, ones for whom the whole idea of wrestling was too much–the ones who turned away, who settled, who–it seems to me, anyway–gave up.  They are not happy, those ones.  But neither are they doomed.

I firmly believe this: it is NEVER too late. And there is always something you can do.

Success is understanding the hands we’ve been dealt and looking at all the options of playing those cards.  Then it’s picking the option that matches what we know of ourselves and our gifts, our values and our yearnings, and committing ourselves to playing that game, whole of heart and single of mind.

It has nothing–success doesn’t–to do with money or clothes or cars or trappings.  But you can have those and still be successful.

**********

Mom is gone.

Thea is gone.

I stay in touch with one of Thea’s kids on Facebook; she’s out West, but we keep each other informed.  So I know that, in her siblings’ lives, there have been divorces and estrangements, disappointments, arraignments, and muddles.  But they have all come through okay. Their lives might not look exactly like the triumphs they’d envisioned back in the day when Thea and Mom compared notes.  But they are all, my old friend tells me, true and strong and happy.

Ah. So. Competition over.  There is plenty of room on the victory platform, plenty of space for each of us to climb up and grab those sashes and slide them over our heads. The music will pulse; we’ll all be bouncing, hands flailing joyfully, the silky word ‘success’ flared across our chests and bellies.

It’s crowded, that platform, with successful people; they dazzle me with their grins and their dance moves. They inspire.  Wait for me!  I call to them. I think  I’m getting there!

And then I go back to the wrestling.

Name That Food! (A Loolie Tale)

Monkey bread from pinterest

Ah, young love: a wonder to see, even when it’s broke, hungry, and gnawing on its own foot.

Kerri and Joe came to visit on the Saturday after New Year’s Day.  They were headed to Cincinnati to visit friends, and they figured out a clever plan to avoid hotel fees.  They’d leave in the middle of the night, get to our house in time for breakfast, and then nap for four hours. Then, fed and refreshed, they’d make the last lap of the journey.

They were coming from Loolie’s house in western New York, and so there was some subtle pressure on Lools to call us and smooth the way.

“Do you mind?” she asked me.  “Kerri will call herself and set things up, but she wanted me to kind of see what you thought and whether you were busy.”

We had no plans that weekend; of course we were delighted to have them. And we were delighted to have the opportunity to meet Joe, of whom Loolie has come to approve.  His obvious respect and devotion for Kerri have overcome any misgivings.

“He’s kind of a knucklehead,” Loolie told me. “He doesn’t have a real filter; what’s in his head comes out his mouth.  But it’s usually pretty intelligent and engaging stuff.  And he thinks Kerri hung the moon, so I know he has good taste.”

******

They arrived at 8 AM Saturday morning, pulling up in Kerri’s van. Before we could even get the back door open, she was off the lift and wheeling her chair through the carport.  Joe (tall, bespectacled, with a round and pleasant face) boosted her over the two steps to the door and then they were in the house, hugging and exclaiming and introducing.  Mark poured coffee and discovered that Joe, too, prefers a nice strong cup of morning tea–they eyed each other approvingly.

I had a little gift for the two of them–a coloring book created from photos of Kerri throughout her life*, ending with a picture of her and Joe on Hallowe’en 2015, in their costumes as a Roman centurion (Kerri) and the horse that pulled her chariot (Joe: back end).  They loved it, and they attacked it with the new crayons I gave them as I put the finishing touches on breakfast.

They asked about the process of converting photos to line drawings, and I told them a computer science student at the College had worked that magic for me via Photoshop.  There were websites that would also provide that service, I said, but Joe, a bit of a techno-geek, was pretty sure he could figure out the process.  They started planning coloring books Joe could use in teaching and Kerri could make for part of her graduate coursework in education.

Then the eggs were scrambled, the steaming coffeecake inverted onto a serving plate, the sausages sizzling and hot.  Jim appeared with an owl-y muddled morning veneer; Mark poured juice.  Kerri and Joe passed plates and silverware and we all tucked in.

There was silence for a moment, that gratified and gratifying silence that betokens enthusiastic young people enjoying their food.  Then, when Joe’s first plateful was empty, and as he reached comfortably around the table, refilling, he began to ruminate out loud.

“You can get to know people from the food they cook, don’t you think?”  he asked the room in general.  We all looked at him, interested, waiting to hear more. “For instance,” he said, “I was a nervous wreck when I met Loolie.  But when I saw the food that she’d prepared, I knew she’d gone out of her way to provide something nice for someone Kerri cares about.  I knew that we’d be okay after that–it told me she was open.”

He went on, talking about some of the wonderful dishes Loolie had served him. He talked about how Kerri’s adventures in cooking–she is experimenting with several different ethnic cooking styles and methods–says a lot about her personality–show she is warm and welcoming, non-judgmental, adventurous.

“Even the NAMES of foods people choose to cook,” Joe expounded, “tell you something about the person, don’t you think? Like Loolie cooking Hoppin’ John on New Year’s–isn’t that perfect?  The name Hoppin’ John just reflects Loolie–all that energy and movement! And how about this coffee cake you made?” he asked me.  “I am guessing this is reflective of your personality! What do you call this?”

There was a tiny silence, during which Kerri turned away and covered her grin with her napkin.

“Well, gee, Joe,” I said.  “We call this Pig-Pickin’ cake.”

Joe’s mouth dropped open.

“Joe,” said Mark, pleasantly, conversationally, “did you just call my wife a PIG?”

“Ack,” said Joe in a tiny little voice.  The table exploded in laughter, during which Jim took the opportunity to make sure he got a portion of the Pig-Pickin’ cake that was left.  And that did it: Joe was part of the family.

We ate all the breakfast, and then we shuffled Joe and Kerri off to beds–they ostentatiously insisted on separate bedrooms–so they could sleep until 2:00 PM.  We woke them up and fed them again, sandwiches, chips, and cookies this time, and then we sent them off on the last leg of their journey–the three hour trip to Cincinnati. Kerri texted on Monday to say they’d had a wonderful time with their friends,and Joe respectfully wondered if I’d be willing to share the recipe for Pig-Pickin’ Cake with him–a recipe, he said, which reflected the warmth and sweetness of my hospitality.

********
I told her I’d be happy to email it to her.  Since it’s written down anyway, I thought you might like to see it, too.

Pig-Picking Cake

Two tubes of refrigerated biscuits
Cinnamon sugar (one quarter cup or so)
One stick butter or margarine
One cup brown sugar
Bundt pan

*******

Cut each biscuit into quarters; put the quarters in a plastic bag with the cinnamon sugar.  Shake until each biscuit morsel is coated. Arrange in the Bundt pan.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; add the sugar and stir until mixture starts to bubble.  Pour over the biscuits in the pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes; the top will look dry and browned. Invert onto a LARGE serving plate; the syrup will run, and it’s HOT and sticky, so be sure the plate is big enough, and has a lip to catch all the drips and NOT drip syrup on your hands. Serve while warm; let people pull their portions off with forks.

*****

And…here’s a link to the Hoppin’ John recipe Loolie uses–from the Lee Brothers’ cookbook…

http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/8183-new-years-day-food-traditions-lee-brothers/

******

‘Pig-pickin’cake’ (monkey bread) image from Pinterest.com

*Idea from Jodi at http://lifeinbetween.me/

 

Witness to the Razing

The sky is screensaver perfect, and the trees are just beginning to blush out of their summer greens–paintbox golds and oranges and scarlets tinge the trees that line the roadways.  Dell is heading north to see her young friend Peter who is dying of AIDs.

Peter is a rascally, impassioned, deep-feeling, determined young man–young in Dell’s terms anyway, at 37. He has been HIV positive since he was very young, and he has had full-blown AIDs for at least 15 years…long enough that they all decided it was a chronic disease and not a deadly one.

Ah, life and its little tricks. Now the clock is loudly ticking.

Dell has a disposable pan of still warm brownies in the backseat and a plastic jug of lemonade, two things she knows will tempt Peter. And, since he is a long, attenuated bag of bones, she feels eating anything will be hopeful.  A little energy, a little bulk.  Has to help.

Right?

She has a mini scrapbook of clippings she has saved for him, articles about things he cares about–drama programs for disenfranchised youth; meals for street people; how libraries are supporting people with disabilities.  Before Peter got so sick he had to stop working, he and Dell butted heads at the Linnville Library, where Dell ran programming and Peter volunteered.  Dell did a great deal on a tiny, grant-funded budget; Peter wanted her to do a great deal more.

He dragged her into the realm of dreaming; she kept him grounded.  Along the way, Peter’s family being loudly absent, Dell had–together with fifteen or so other motherly people of a certain age–unofficially adopted the boy.

And then Dell had moved seventy miles away with her family–new opportunity for Martin, better services for Jack: a no-brainer.  But there were strong cords attaching her, still, to Linnville, and Peter was one of those cords.  She wrote every week, and he often wrote back, or he texted jokes, or emailed photos of things happening at the library where he had, for a year or so, filled her old position. And once a month she tried to get back for a visit, but her old friends recommended she try a little harder and a little more often this Fall.  This Fall, Peter’s medical options had run out.

********
There is no expressway to Linnville, and Dell enjoys the curving country roadways. They dip into Amish country, and she must, often, slow down to safely pass big buggies led by horses with hooves so sturdy they remind her of Clydesdales.  On the country roads, too, it’s good to be mindful–Amish valley or no–that the chickens are generally free-range.  The deer are, too.

She crests the hill toward her turn-off and brakes in dismay; the route she usually takes, an orange sign announces, is closed due to construction, and the detour will take her around and through a little industrial city and then on ten extra miles of  country roads.  She will be late.

She messages Peter and plunges on.

Traffic, at least, is not too bad, and she settles in to the unfamiliar route, enjoying the rural sights.  There is a paddock with fat sheep guarded by vigilant llamas.  Around a broad, sweeping curve, there is an enclosed meadow with goats–tiny goats standing on little structures and peering at the woods beyond, at each other.  At her as she passes by.

The goats remind her of a photo she has of Peter, from a library outing.  Not a country boy at all, but the teens cajoled him, anyway, into visiting a farm after they’d had a discussion about local food. The farm had goats, and one of the girls–Tabby, who was plump and insecure and worshiped Peter–insisted he come and pet them with her.

“Oh, no WAY,” said Peter, but Tabby was inexorable, and finally he stepped gingerly through the gate, his shiny loafers squinching in the warm muck of a post-rain goat yard.

And he fell in love.  The little goats gamboled around him, came up to investigate him, clustered around Tabby, to her vast delight.  Peter capitulated completely to the charm of the goats, and Dell has a photo of him from that day.  As stick-like as Ichabod Crane, he is bent with one hand extended, his improbably brassy blond hair falling over his forehead.  Little goats jump all around him, all except for one that has stopped, facing Peter, staring straight into his eyes. Peter’s grin is joyous, boyish, and surprised.

“The Goat Whisperer,”  Dell dubbed him, and Peter scoffed it off, but he was secretly pleased, she could tell, to have crossed a barrier into a land he’d never thought to inhabit.

She drives around Burton, the little industrial city with its gray towers and billboards for bank loans and the benefits of breastfeeding.

After a long stretch of country, she hits another little town and recognizes it as Crete, famous for its family-owned chocolate factory.  She passes the factory heading into town, rolling down the window to enjoy the rich scent of warm chocolate.

In the town itself, she stops at the one light–red, of course–and looks over at a beautiful little white church.  It is polished and welcoming and, she thinks, getting a repair job.  The yard is full of construction equipment, and a crew seems to be just assembling. The windows are empty, gaping holes, and Dell thinks they must be putting in new.  She imagines beautiful stained glass, black-leaded, fitting snugly into those apertures.

The pretty little church, somehow, warms her heart.  She finishes the trip to Linnville with some kind of undefined hope bubbling.

********

But it is not a good day; Peter feels terrible.  He can’t eat the brownies, although he says, a little snarkily, that he is sure the visiting nurses will help him out there.  He drinks a little lemonade.  They talk about the elephant in the room.  Peter tells Dell he is deeply, intrinsically weary, and not at all afraid.  He asks her to read a poem at his memorial, and she does not even try to pretend it’s not looming.

Peter lays down but can’t settle, so she reads to him from his current book, a  Wallace Berry, and by the time she is done with a chapter, he is snoring lightly, and the nurse has arrived, eyes lighting at the tray of brownies.  Dell gathers up her purse and keys and phone, asks questions the nurse can’t really answer, and heads home.

**********

Clouds clutter the sky now–not screensaver clouds, but ominous ones, and most of the animals on the roadside have gone in to shelter.  It’s a grimmer ride; she turns on NPR and listens to war talk, talk of pain and devastation, and she forces herself not to shut the radio off.

And then she pulls into Crete, where, again, she hits the the red-light, and she is shocked.

The pristine church is gone, flattened: a pile of wooden rubble.

She makes it to the chocolate factory parking lot before she has to pull over. It is thirty minutes before she is fit, again, to drive.

**********

Peter dies that Sunday, at 9:30 in the morning, with three good friends–one of them his beloved minister–at his side. None of his family made the trip.

They lay him out at the church, and the family finally does show up; they’re staggered by the lines of people waiting to say goodbye.  Regret begins to seep through their anger and their guilt.  It is a rough and ragged viewing.

The memorial service, in that conservative small town, has very little room of any kind left, standing or otherwise. Peter is eulogized by a wide and wacky range of people, from Tabby to Sister Camille from the Catholic church to the bank president. Some homeless folks talk about his presence at the library, and a few urban friends from his younger years tell tear-stained stories.  Roy, the minister, is eloquently angry at the useless disease that stole away an essential life.  Dell reads her poem without crying.

They all file once more past the open casket.  When it is Dell’s turn, she slides the picture of Peter, grinning joyously at the little goat, into a space between his chest and his arm, pats his cold hand, and goes downstairs to help pour coffee.

Vegetable Healing: A Loolie Tale

Special wishes for healing to Lulu, whose wonderful blog is at http://luluopolis.com/2015/06/06/a-surprise-part-6-good-news-good-pathology/

Beautiful glossy green leaves of spinach; buttery baby romaine; white and red onions, the mud from their earthy erstwhile home still clinging to their hair-like roots.  I gentle them out of their bags and put them on the counter next to rugged, curly-leafed kale, some broccoli, and a burgeoning bunch of red, red radishes.

They make a beautiful still life, the veggies I brought home from the CSA I signed up for this year.  And they challenge me:  what will I do with this bounty?

I am pulling my copy of Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food off the bookshelf when I get a strong sense of deja vu.  This reminds me, I think, of the time Loolie got herself roped into cooking for Thom.

We were staying at the lake for a couple of weeks that year; some friends back home had called and offered us their cottage if we were free when it was vacant. It was the summer after Mark finished law school; we were both exhilarated by his accomplishment and exhausted by the marathon that had led to it.  We were happy to say yes.

The cottage was a charming rickety place on a dirt lane that led to a gravel lane that led to the beach.  The three bedrooms were separated by partitions; the walls didn’t even reach the ceilings.  The wood floors were smooth and blond from years of bare feet and flip flops scrubbing sand into them.  The living room had old saggy furniture with canvas slip covers.  There was an oval 1950’s table, metal with a formica top, in the kitchen, and four chairs with cracking vinyl seats. There was a turquoise apartment-style electric range, an old round-topped refrigerator, a big old sink with runners built into the porcelain. There was no dishwasher and no air conditioning.

But there was an indoor shower and an outdoor shower.   The window screens let beautiful lake breezes flow through the house, and at night the shooshing of the waves lulled everyone off to sleep.  The first full day there, a Saturday, it poured, and I discovered just how pleasant reading on a screened-in porch, rain lashing all around me, could be.

On Sunday morning, at just about ten o’clock, Loolie and Kerri pulled up in their van.  We were lounging at the picnic table; I had been down to the beach for a walk, and the boyos were grilling steak and scrambling a cast-iron panful of  eggs on the charcoal-fired barbecue. The day was fresh-washed after the rain; the sun shone, and the air was cool and sweet.

Loolie hopped out and carefully lifted a brown paper bag from the passenger seat.  The back door slid open, and Kerri lowered herself down on the lift.  She deftly wheeled her chair across the bumpy lawn to where we were gathered, and Loolie followed more slowly.

“What’s in the bag?”  asked Mark, and Loolie grinned.

“What’s on the grill?”  she countered.

I went inside to grab a couple more settings.

We divvied up the steak and eggs and ate every morsel, and then Loolie pulled her offering out of the bag.  It was a strawberry rhubarb pie, and the rich, fruity smell wafted.

“Oh, my,” I said.  “That’s still warm from the oven.”

Mark was already in the cottage, rummaging for dessert plates and a serving spoon.  He came out with those and a half gallon of vanilla ice cream, a little soft from the ancient freezer.  We cut the pie; the juices oozed, the crust exploded flakily, and the ice cream, dolloped on each serving, melted into puddles.  It’s amazing what fresh air can do for one’s appetite–and one’s capacity. We ate, the five of us, the whole darned pie and all the ice cream.

I brought out an old plastic dish rack and piled all the dishes in it, and Jim took them over to the side of the house and hosed the whole lot down.  Loolie looked at me in surprise.

“I’ll wash them later,” I said, “but this way, they’re not so sticky.”

“Were those fresh berries?” Mark asked, and Kerri said they were.  She and her mom, she told him, had signed a Community-Supported Agriculture agreement with a family at the farmers’ market. It was like buying a share in the farm.  Every week, the family brought them a basket with a portion of whatever was ripe.  They had, Kerri said, been trying a lot of new things.

Jim, never one to indulge in veggie talk, slipped inside to find his laptop, and Loolie launched into a paean about the joys of her CSA and the creative challenge the interesting offerings presented.  And just at that moment, another car pulled up, a sparkling black SUV; the door opened and a fashionably shod leg appeared.

“Oh, lord,” muttered Loolie.

It was Weedy,–elegant, tailored Weedy.

She hadn’t always been so put together, our Weedy.  In fact, the etymology of her nickname came from her propensity for a certain substance, slightly illegal, during the aptly shrouded days of our high school careers.  But then she and her sweetheart, Tommie, had gone off to college together, and when they came back, the scruff was gone.  It was replaced by the gleam of ambition.

Tommie became Thom, and Weedy, who could not shed her nickname, began to insist it was derived from a younger sibling’s cute mispronunciation of her given name, Louisa.  Thom was a CPA with political aspirations; he was a city council member, and it was no secret he was biding his time for a mayoral run.  Weedy ran a local foundation and rode herd on their two children.  Nobody ever suggested Thom and Weedy’s son or daughter strayed over the line of legality; they were beautiful young teens, held rigidly in line.

That Sunday morning, Weedy emerged from her sleek machine with a bulging grocery sack and a woeful face.

“I am SO glad to see you girls!” she wailed.  “I need help!”

She came over and air-kissed everyone; after his obligatory buss, Mark decamped,  muttering about dishes and a walk on the beach.  He grabbed the dish rack and scarpered, chinking and clunking.

Weedy sighed and heaved her shoulders, and then she heaved her paper sack onto the picnic table.

“Look at THIS,” she said.

Out tumbled beautiful veggies, onions and spinach, broccoli and kale, tender leaves of lettuce. The greens and reds and pearly whites gleamed in the morning sun. It was beautiful.

We looked at the veggies, then we all turned to Weedy, not seeing the problem.

“My sister’s on vacation,” said Weedy, “and she had me pick up her weekly farm goods; she’s got one of those CSA things. And not only do I not know what to DO with this stuff, but I know Thom won’t eat a bite of it.” She put her hands on her hips; a bracelet jangled.  Her expensive linen shorts suit–what the well dressed matron wears to visit friends at the beach–was charmingly rumpled.

“I guess,” said Weedy, “I’ll just throw it all away.

Loolie choked.  “Throw it OUT!” she said.  “Those beautiful things!  Why, you can make wonderful meals with this.”

“Oh, I don’t think so, Lools,” said Weedy, sadly.  “I don’t have the culinary imagination that you have. And Thom calls all this field greens.  He says he’ll eat the cow but not the cow’s food.”

“I’ll tell you WHAT,” said Loolie, hotly. “I could make a meal out of this that THom would be glad to eat.  He’d eat it and ask for more, Weedy!”

Loolie started pronouncing the ‘h’ in Tommie’s name about the time he, as a young, eager school board member, opposed Loolie’s request for adaptive equipment on the school playground.  He’d made, Loolie’d told me, a pompous speech about understanding her request but having to be a wise steward on behalf of ALL the children.  Before things got too ugly, Weedy stepped in with a foundation grant, and the playground equipment was purchased. But Loolie had never forgiven Thom.

Weedy looked at her now, woebegone.  “I just don’t think you could, Loolie. There is no way Thom would ever eat a meal with these ingredients.”

“MOM,” said Kerri, warningly. But it didn’t help. Within moments, Weedy had left, the veggies had stayed, and Loolie had a commitment to cook a meal for Weedy, Thom, and their kids the next night–a meal, I should add, that would take place in the carport of our borrowed cottage.

It had all happened so fast. Kerri and I looked at each other, and then at the seductive veggies on the table; we avoided looking at Loolie.

A moment passed, and then there was a heavy sigh.

“Played me!” snorted Loolie.  “She played me like a cheap plywood violin!”

I studied my winter white toes, which peeped forlornly from my summer sandals.

“Oh, well,” said Loolie, finally.  “I can still make my point.”

Kerri and I looked up at the same time, met eyes, and grinned.

“I’ll be in charge of decorations, Mom,” said Kerri.  “We’ll wow ’em with food AND ambiance.”

Loolie made me get a pad and pen from the house, and we started making our plan.

*****

The challenge of the project kicked in; by Monday evening, we were ready.  Loolie had organized us, organized the menu, organized the work.  We had shopped and prepped; we had scrubbed and swept; and we had floated like hungry cartoons on the amazing smells emanating from pot and pan and casserole.

At 6:30 precisely, the black SUV smoothed to a stop in the cottage’s driveway, and Weedy and Thom and their children, Lisa and Todd, emerged.  Kerri ushered everyone into the carport. Its walls were draped artistically with drop cloths; an old, dumpster-dove chandelier was wrapped with fairy lights and suspended from the ceiling.  Two banquet tables were draped with old white sheets, and mason jars full of wild flowers served as centerpieces.

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” whispered Lisa, and I saw Loolie rigid jaw soften.

“THIS,” she said, “is all Kerri.”

Her daughter bowed her head, graciously.

Then Jim and Mark emerged with trays of appetizers, spinach and cheese in puff pastry triangles, a tray of raw veggies and a hot spinach dip, some cheese and crackers.  People grabbed drinks from the old tin wash tub we’d found in the tall grass; it was scrubbed within an inch of its metallic life and filled with ice.  The sounds of chooching screw tops and fwapping tabs was heard, and people organized themselves into seats.

And the dinner began.  Loolie started us with a salad beautifully presented in her gleaming wooden salad bowl; spinach and kale and tender young lettuce, drenched in a  sweet and sour sauce, augmented with bacon and slices of hard-boiled egg. Thom cleared his plate, scrapingly, and asked for seconds.  Weedy raised an eyebrow at Loolie.

Round two was a savory French onion soup, bubbling cheese covering crusty chunks of baguette from the local bakery.  The fresh, sweet onions all but melted into the homemade broth.  Thom scraped the last of the cheese with his spoon, and picked up the bowl to down every last bit of broth.

And then came the lasagna, layers of kale and spinach sandwiched with mozzarella, ricotta, and fresh Italian sausage and tender pasta, the red sauce made with tomatoes Loolie had canned herself.  Silence descended as people ate. And ate. And ate. The huge casserole emptied in stop-watch motion, and everyone sat back and groaned.

The silence lengthened just a little, and then Thom said, “Loolie.  All of you. THAT was amazing.”

As if at a signal, people started moving and talking.  Weedy grabbed Loolie and asked about recipes.  Todd and Lisa went inside with Jim to play video games. Thom pulled up a chair next to Kerri’s and soon they were deep in conversation, heads bent close together.  Mark and I looked at each other, sighed, and began to gather up the dishes. We needed to move.

We filled a couple of basins with the dirty dishes, gave them the hose routine, and lugged them in the house, filling and refilling the old sink with soapy water.  He washed; I dried. We listened to the kids, who were having a good time; their voices rose and eddied into a kind of happy melody.

We watched the four outside, nervously.

“Everyone seems to be being very civil,” said Mark hopefully.

We stacked the last cleaned dish on the drainer and loaded up the tray with dessert plates.  There was a basket of flaky homemade biscuits, a big bowl of fresh strawberries swimming in their own sugary syrup, and a dish of snowy whipped cream sitting on ice.  We called the kids. They groaned a little, but they saved their game and gamely followed us out.

Loolie and Weedy had joined Thom and Kerri at the table.  They looked up as we emerged.

THom,” said Loolie, “has just invited Kerri to be part of the city’s playground planning committee. He wants to be sure the plans work for kids in wheelchairs.”

“Do you think,” Thom said, quietly, “we could go back to Tommie, Lools?  And you could maybe forget that I was a horse’s ass all those years ago?”

There was a tiny moment where sentiment threatened; I could hear the music begin to swell.  Then Mark said, “STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE!” and slammed his tray down on the table, and serving spoons appeared, and people who claimed they couldn’t eat one more bite not thirty minutes ago were heaping their plates.

The men built a fire; the kids headed down to the beach, Kerri’s wheels crunching on the gravel. Weedy and Thom insisted on taking care of dessert dishes.  And then we sat around the fire, completely replete, and we talked and laughed without any stiffness or reservation.  It was lovely, and Tommie and Weedy stayed until after midnight, when they dragged their sleepy kids home.

Jim excused himself to head to bed, and Mark and Loolie and Kerri and I sat around the fire, sweatshirts on against the cool lake breezes, watching the embers sigh and open, neon against the smoky ash. Oh, it was quiet.  I thought about friendship and rifts and what it takes for healing to take place.

“That was something, wasn’t it?” I said thoughtfully.

“Yeah,” said Loolie. “It really was, wasn’t it?” I saw her grin in the glow of the dying fire.

“Yep,” she said. “He ate every bit of the cow food I served him.  I told Weedy. I told her.”

Kerri grinned and started humming, channeling Marvin Gaye.  Then her sweet voice soared into the night:

When I get that FEELing I need VEGETABLE healing.  Vegetable: whooaah Oh! It’s been GOOD for ME!

Loolie picked it up, and I joined in, too. We three women harmonized, Mark beating rhythm on the washtub, until we heard a nearby window scrape open and a neighbor’s irritated cough.

*****

Healing powers, indeed, I think now. The memories make me grin. And they send me to my recipe notebook, to pull out the ‘Farmer’s Lasagna’ recipe written in Loolie’s bold scrawl. I’m humming as I work, and I bet you can guess the tune.

We will eat well tonight.

The Unexpected Finding

Belaruth bellowed in rage.
Belaruth bellowed in rage.

“Do not reveal.”

It’s the first rule of searching: Belaruth knows this. The father of seven daughters and godfather to three girls whose fathers passed, he has Searched nine times before, always with no incident. Each Search, however, has made him more annoyed with the clumsy, wasteful Humes; each successfully completed Search has seen him joyous to winkle back home.

So he knows. But when the she-ling Hume comes crashing through the woods, sniveling and snuffling, kicking over his painstakingly erected dye vats and mashing the metal shavings he has so carefully separated from the paper backings–ruining, in fact, a full day’s preparation—he can’t help it.

He bellows in rage.

He hears work stop in the camp behind him; he hears the scampering approach of his youngest daughter’s tiny feet.

“What is it, Father–oh, dear!” says Dagney. “Oh, the poor wee thing!”

“WEE!” roars Belaruth. “She’s a hundred times you!”

The she-ling has fwomped herself onto the nicely decaying log that supplies endless fuel for their conservative fires. She stopped her sniveling mid-sob when he bellowed, and her eyes, huge and pale behind outlandish spectacles, found him immediately. There can be no dashing away, no pretending they are not here.

Belaruth gestures lightly to the rest of the team–stay back. Humes are unpredictable, although it’s true they’re usually more afraid than frightening.

But Dagney steps boldly forward, and he groans.

“What’s your name, little she-ling?” It’s a ludicrous titling from his tiny, lithe daughter, whose head wouldn’t reach this great lump’s ankle bone.

The Hume child stares with her mouth open, her nose dripping, for a long moment. Tears quiver on her cheeks, but she is so startled to see the Searchers in what, Belaruth knows, she thinks of as ‘her’ woods, that she has forgotten to bawl.

Finally she gathers her wits together. He sees her swallow, reach down her hands to bolster herself on the log, and choke out, “Patricia. But they call me Pat.”

“And why,” begins his daughter–“Dagney!” he warns, but she quells him with a look,–“why are you so troubled?”

The tears tremble again on her magnified eyelids. “This BOY,” she snuffles, “Mark, in my class, made up a poem about me. He said it and everyone laughed and laughed.”

“A poem?” says Dagney, puzzled. “Would that not mean he is wooing you?”

“WOOING me!” wails Pat. “He’s MOCKING me! His poem goes like a Dr. Seuss book,” and she bites out, mockingly:

This is Pat.

Pat is fat.

She has a cat.

The cat is fat, just like Pat.”

Belaruth turns his head to cough–a cough that starts out as an unbidden laugh. He does not know this Dr. Seuss Hume, but–it IS a catchy little chantie.

Pat glares at him. “By the end of the day,” she says, “everyone was saying it. They said it in school and they said it on the bus. I was so embarrassed. I never want to go back to school again.” She sticks out her lip, pouting, and Belaruth thinks again that the Humes are unfortunately unattractive.

This one, though, he acknowledges, is somehow endearing. Needily so. He turns to Dagney and signals her with his eyes–I’ll take care of this, he is saying,—and she slips back to the women who halted in the midst of gathering materials.

He takes a deep breath–he knows, he KNOWS!– he shouldn’t be doing this, and he walks toward the she-ling.

“In my land,” he says to Pat, “this would be the opening salvo in a contest of rhymes. Tell me about this Mark child.”

By the time Pat lumbers off thirty minutes later, they are fast friends. She has learned about them–that they are from what Belaruth described as a world under. They have come on a Search for Dagney’s trousseau, to gather metals and cloth and plastic and wood–to gather things left behind from the wastefulness of the Humes. The team of craftspeople who have accompanied them will perform what comes to almost alchemy or magic; they will weave the waste into things of beauty with which Dagney will start her new life with Jegg, her intended. They will create a wedding gown that will make all who come to wish Dagney and Jegg well gasp in wonder.

Pat’s eyes soften thoughtfully as she listens, and she asks questions about their processes, and she looks around and notices the litter on the woods floor. She has the grace to look sheepish and ashamed.

Belaruth asks her about this Mark who torments her, and he learns that Mark is one of the two smartest children in the class; Pat is the other. And Mark is very competitive. He has bright red hair and a face full of those odd freckle spots some Humes are plagued with. It won’t be, thinks Belaruth, difficult to compose a catchy lay that will irritate the boy in his turn.

They begin to compose together; Pat pulls a piece of crumpled paper from her pocket, along with a broken pencil. By the time she lumbers off, she has written  down this chantie about her blazing-haired nemesis:

Markus Karkus
Combing his hair
He set his comb on fire!
What’s he gonna do now?
Shouldn’t use a plastic comb!
Use one made of wire!

They have even added a refrain, which can be sung:

Markus Karkus, put it out!
Your brain’s already burned!
It doesn’t matter anyhow
There’s nothing you have learned!

Humes, thinks Belaruth, shaking his head, listening to the pounding of Pat’s feet grow further and further away. They’re exhausting. He turns back to his work area, where he will erect again the dye vats and begin extracting brilliant colors from the paper debris left behind by the careless species.

**********

Dagney is a hard-working, beautiful daughter; she leads her team of crafters and artists with care and a light hand, and they begin to stockpile wonders. There is a set of carrying bags made from pounded plastic; the bags are soft and supple and a beautiful pale blue. They have separated sheets of thin aluminum from paper backing; Belaruth tells them a substance called ‘Wrigley’s’ is wrapped in these sheets. None of them understands just what a ‘Wrigley’s’ is or how the Humes employ it….although the discarded papers smell wonderfully minty.

The metal sheets will be shredded and spun and woven into soft cloth that will wrap around Dagney’s wedding gown. They have found three large squares of cloth to choose from for the gown–Dagney is debating whether she prefers a plain soft blue or a flower-sprigged blue cotton. Crafters are sewing and crafters are pounding; some knit; some boil dyes; and some plunge their arms into giant pots of hot soapy water, cleansing and rinsing all manner of carelessly discarded treasure.

The Search goes very well; Belaruth couldn’t be more pleased.

He isn’t even too annoyed when Pat comes clomping back; of course they heard her coming when she was yards away–her gasping breath, her pounding steps.

She comes to tell him the poem has worked. She made copies of the refrain, enlisted the girls in the class, and soon everyone was singing about Markus’s burned brain cells.

To her surprise, though, she tells Belaruth, Mark was a very good sport. He laughs and makes up a response poem on the spot:

Pat’s so smart!
She sent a dart
Right through my heart!

And Pat, feeling greatly daring, had quipped right back:

Please don’t make
a rhyme with ‘fart’!!!!

Belaruth laughs with her. And when she asks about their work, he goes to see if Dagney would mind if he shows her some of the creations. They drag out the carrying bags, the silver over-cloth, the soft-as-clouds blankets knit from finely spun plastic fibers. With care unexpected in such a clumsy creature, she touches and studies the crafters’ work.

Belaruth waits for her to react, but Pat is quiet, very quiet, for a long time.

“I could do this,” she says finally. “I could learn to use the things we throw away.”

Belaruth almost feels tears well up–although of course that doesn’t happen. “Dear child,” he says. “If only all Humes came to realize that.”

While the Searchers work, Pat cleans the little clearing.  She piles up scraps of paper, pop cans, plastic bottles. The crew, grateful for the time saved, eagerly gathers up her finds and starts the process of morphing them.

She treks out to meet them every day for the next two weeks, and she marvels at the wondrous creations the team produces. Their final project is the gown; when it is done, Dagney models it for her. She has chosen the flower sprigged print. The dress sweeps and sways; Dagney’s jet-black hair glows against the blue flowers and the silvery mesh over-skirt and vest.

When the gown is done, Dagney models it for Pat.
When the gown is done, Dagney models it for Pat.

Pat says it is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. And Belaruth, who has grown truly fond of the great clumpy child, tells her, softly, that the completion of the gown signals the completion of the search.

Pat, who really is very bright, knows this.

“I’m going to make a little park here, in honor of meeting you,” she tells Belaruth, and he feels a little pang. He does not regret breaking Rule One; he will miss this Hume child.

“Remember, though,” he says gently, “don’t tell anyone about this time.”

“Belaruth!” says Pat, and there is a pretty ripple in her voice, “who’d BELIEVE me?” They look at each other, and they both begin to laugh.

When Pat leaves a little later, they  know it is their final parting. That night the Searchers pack up; in the morning, by the first light, they winkle away.

********
Perhaps the meeting with the Hume child has addled his brain, thinks Belaruth. When he and Dagney take the goods the team has crafted to the storerooms, when they inventory the wonderfully crafted trousseau, they discover they have left all the soft blue carry bags behind. This has never happened before; Belaruth is chagrined. His daughter loves those bags.

For the first time ever, he will have to winkle back to a Search site.

It is almost a week later when he has the time to return. He goes in the early morning, when the dew is still clinging to the grass. He finds that Pat has begun her work. She has cut the grass in the clearing; there are rough benches made from three small logs she has dragged over. There are scuff marks from more feet than Pat’s.

Maybe, he thinks, maybe she has brought Mark here and some of the other friends from school. And maybe they looked at the waste and the litter on their pathway in, and they began to dream of ways to end that scourge.

He thinks it may be true. In the center of the clearing there’s a creation. It’s made from cans and a bucket, from containers and sticks. All these things have been dipped in concrete and stacked together. It is a statue,–and Belaruth feels a tightening in his throat,–that looks remarkably like him. Against the tin-can feet leans a little card, and the card reads, “In memory of a friend who taught me so much.” Neatly piled next to the card are the soft blue bags.

Maybe, thinks Belaruth, maybe Humes aren’t totally annoying, after all. Maybe there’s hope. He imagines a time when Searches have to change because  litter and waste have disappeared. Maybe, he thinks, they could partner with Humes then.

He carries the lovely luggage to a spot where he can stop long enough to plant the memory of the whole statue firmly in his mind. He will tell Dagney; it will make her smile. He gathers the well-loved bags in his arms, and he winkles them away.

The statue, Belaruth realizes, looks like him.
The statue, Belaruth realizes, looks like him.