I saw a young woman some time ago at the grocery store. Our eyes met. Hers darted away as fast as they had met mine. She grabbed her forearm and furtively looked toward her spouse to see if he had seen her infraction.
Perhaps I read too much into our moment.
It made me think of those among us who carry with them the appearance of freedom, the appearance of independence, but who are in reality trapped in their own lives, tethered unwillingly to another without a glimmer of hope or of escape.
For those among us suffering this quiet desperate life, may you find the strength to set yourself free from the oppression that has bound your soul and silenced your voice.
It wasn’t the way he stared at her with his cold eyes or the way his tongue flicked the barb of hay that sat on his bottom lip.
It was his posture. It was the confidence of his ownership of her. It was the misplaced pride, the cocky arrogance he paraded with every smirk he cast toward her.
She wasn’t going anywhere.
I’ll stake your heart and gouge your eyes when you sleep. She plotted. But the thought waned as quick as she contemplated it.
She knew there was no escape.
You may have my body, but you will never have my mind. She thought with a quiver in her heart, for he had her there too.
She was lost. Bound in a prison, not of concrete walls or iron bars, but of her own flesh, bone, and blood.
P.S. If you enjoyed this story, please consider sharing it with a close friend.
The Dripping Pen: Homecoming
I know it’s cliché to wish you health and happiness in the New Year, but I do.
In all earnestness, above all, I wish you health. As I get older, I have come to realize that health and mobility are the foundations of our lives. Without these, it makes for a difficult go.
I recognize where I need improvement. I must get more sleep. For some, this is an easy task. For me, I have found it difficult. I am naturally a night person. I wish I were among the morning dwellers. Too often I hear my voice in the smallest of hours.
The other constant that runs through my mind is my diet in general. I know I should do much better. If not for me then for my kids right?
I am not one to make New Year Resolutions, so I won’t. I will, however, look myself in the eye and say, “Do better. Don’t aim to be perfect. But do better.” Better is attainable.
My wish for you in this new year is for you to find your "better." Whatever your “better” happens to be.
And in light of health, I thought I'd share the story below. It’s a tribute to the caretakers of the world and to those that need a little extra care to make it through the day.
A deep breath escaped her lungs as she returned to the dining hall. He was still there, alone and undisturbed.
“Okay,” she said as she began to sit down. The man was curious and looked about the restaurant as if he did not know where he was or who this young lady was before him.
“Oh,” she said as she caught herself before she committed to the seat. “My apologies. Do you mind if I join you?”
“If you want to join an old man for soup you’re more than welcome. Can’t imagine why you’d want to sit with me, but . . .” he said as his hand gestured for her to join him.
“Thank you,” the young woman said as she began to sit down again.
"Just a moment,” the man said with a pointed finger. “I don’t know whose jacket that is.” A black coat with slightly oversized abalone shell buttons hung off the back of the chair. The young woman placed her hand on its collar and felt the fabric. She smiled as her fingers ran down it.
“It’s a lovely coat,” she said. “I’ll just move it in case the owner comes back.” He watched as she removed the coat from the chair and draped it around the back of the adjacent chair. She stood again in front of him as he ate soup. Her hands flopped to her sides and slapped her thighs unintentionally. He looked up again. “May I sit now?”
“Yes, yes,” he said. “But there are many empty chairs around us.”
She nodded as she looked around the restaurant. To her right sat a middle-aged couple and to her left, a young pregnant couple. But he was right. There were many other seats available.
“I suppose I don’t want to be alone. Not tonight.” She said as she took her seat.
He didn’t say anything as he continued to spoon his soup.
“Lobster bisque? How is it?” she asked.
“Oh nothing,” she said as her eyes surveyed the restaurant while her hands unintentionally rubbed her sleeves. It was a meager attempt to alleviate a sudden chill.
She smirked. His mouth opened slightly as concern fell over his face.
“Dear, you must be freezing. Where is your coat? That thin blouse won’t do.”
She rubbed her arms again and then placed her hands on her lap.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I checked my coat. I’ll be fine.”
He looked around himself, but could not find his coat.
“I’d give you mine but I don’t have one either.”
“Please don’t worry yourself about me. It’s enough that you’ve invited me to join you. Or I should say I invited myself. Thank you.”
“It doesn’t bother me any. What is your name?”
Her lips parted but then pressed shut as a plate hovered in front of her. It was held by a strong hand and then floated down to the table.
“Pan-seared Salmon with a vegetable medley for the lady and for the gentleman, Roasted Cod with scallions and sliced potatoes. If anything else is needed please do let me know.” The waiter was off in a swoosh of black and white before either could have said a word. But words were not needed.
They ate mostly in silence. An occasional scrape of a knife and clink of a fork open the floor to a conversation, but both sat in silence.
Several times the man glanced at the woman in front of him without recognition. One of these furtive gestures elicited a smile in his direction. In turn, he lowered his head and took another bite. He still did not know what to make of her or why she had decided to sit with him.
With her final bite, she rested her fork on the plate and wiped her mouth with her napkin. A glass of wine had appeared several minutes ago and had been sipped half a dozen times. The man vaguely recalled it being poured.
The leather-bound booklet harboring the check appeared at the edge of the table. A nod from the waiter acknowledged that his patrons were satisfied with the service and he excused himself.
Delicate fingers reached for the booklet and as they made contact, the man’s hand quick with anger and aged from years of labor and strife held her wrist fast. His touch, callous and hard, softened as the heat of her skin flowed into his like sunshine being absorbed on a warm summer day.
Their eyes met again as she placed her other hand on top of his. It was as if he saw her for the first time. His taut face relaxed, his eyes drooped as if to cry.
“Jenny?” he asked.
“Hi Daddy,” she said as she nodded. Her eyes welled to the brim.
“Jenny,” he said. “I—I’ve missed you.”
“Me too Daddy.” She thought of all the things she wanted to say. She thought of all the things she had said many times before. But this time her mind was quiet.
This time she felt acceptance.
She let go of his hand, wiped a tear and reached for her coat on the chair beside her.
“Yes, yes,” her father said, as he recognized his mistake.
“It’s time to go.” She said as she signed for the evening and closed the booklet.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Yes . . . to Mother.”
She didn't have the heart to spoil such a delightful evening.
I'll see you between the pages.
P.S. If you enjoyed this story, please consider sharing it with a close friend.
A Sister's Heart
The hardest part is not knowing why.
During the small hours—those cold silent dark mornings—I think of him.
There’s no room for judgment. Not anymore.
Maybe he thought I couldn’t handle what he had to bear.
Perhaps I don’t possess the strength.
I wish he’d given me a chance.
I would have given him my shoulder—an unsteady one—but a shoulder . . . and a sister’s ear.
I should have listened.
I listen now.
The last time I met his stone was the day he was buried.
As I walk to his resting place, slumped shoulders droop under a long coat pelted by lumbering raindrops. A man stands with his back to me. He knows I am here, but the pain will not allow him to greet me. I wrap an arm around his back and rest my head upon his damp shoulder.
He is a hollowed man—a father to only me now.
A single flower held by limp fingers bends under the weight of the pouring rain. With an impotent flick of his wrist, the flower falls to the earth where my brother rests in eternity.
“Perhaps the tragedy of death is not that those we love have died, but that we go on to live.” VH
I’ll see you between the pages.
She was buying cigarettes and had been for years. Her reckless frail hair caught my eye as it spilt from the brim of an offset blue helmet. Her ribbed chest was flanked in a well-worn pink-fringed V-neck blouse, and her khakis—tattered beyond repair—hung from her hipbones like pants held tight by clothespins.
I couldn’t hear the brand requested but the cashier did not have it at hand. She maneuvered her corpulence with ease around the counter and then into the stockroom.
“Is that a bicycle or scooter helmet?” I asked as I stood in front of the beef jerky display. For just a moment she searched for where my voice came from and smiled when she found my inquiring eyes.
“Bicycle,” she said with some effort, as if her body was trying to catch up with her thoughts.
“Oh,” I replied, “I was just curious, it looked like it could be for a scooter. You’re one of a very few saving the world then.”
A light chuckle escaped her thin lips before they curved downward into a delicate frown.
“No nothing like that. I’m not allowed to drive. When I was twenty-one I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.”
I was thrown, not knowing what to say as I tried to express something that resembled sympathy.
She slipped her thumb and forefinger through her chinstrap and with a sharp snap she unclasped it. Cautious fingers lifted her helmet from her head. The hair that flowed at the brim of her helmet was all she had. In its place—a gray scalp and a mature white-marbled scar that scored her crown from one ear to the other.
“They cut from here to here,” she said. “I was five months pregnant at the time. When I woke up. She was gone. I lost my vision in this eye, and in the other I only have partial sight. After the surgery I had to learn everything again. I didn’t know how to walk, speak or brush my teeth. All that we take for granted had vanished in a moment. The doctors tell you the risks, but you never believe it will be you until it actually happens.” A pensive smirk twisted her face. “I’m sorry I don’t mean to be foolish. I only meant it’s been a journey.”
“No you’re not…I…”
Words failed me.
“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable if I did.” She chuckled again trying to ease my concern.
“Are you okay now?” I asked.
“I’m alive. That’s got to count for something.”
As I looked at her I no longer saw her fragility. Before me wasn’t a withered person dealt an unfair hand, but a young woman vibrant and beautiful as if the years had fallen away.
Perhaps when we understand part of someone’s story and their pain we are given permission to see them in their true light—their true beauty.
She slipped her helmet back on as the cashier popped out from the backroom with the cigarette pack in hand.
I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t smoke, but surviving a brain tumor and rehabilitating herself from “adult” infancy to mobility again, and suffering such a profound loss, it wasn’t my place. She’d earned those smokes.
We said our goodbyes and I watched as she left. I turned to the cashier who was oblivious to the plight of the woman she had just sold cigarettes, but I was forever changed.
I never asked her name, nor did she inquire about mine. Sometimes names are unimportant. Sometimes it’s the story that matters.
I hope she is still out there, somewhere cranking her bicycle pedals and living a life far from her past.
Although this story was written in a fictionalized style, it is a true story. I met this incredible person on June 26th, 2009. Lo these years, I still think of her.
I’ll see you between the pages.
An uncertain voice turns my head. A man with a slight bend in his back and a shock of white hair stands with a tray of soup, three neatly stacked napkins and a cup of coffee.
“I don’t mean to be a bother,” he says and then stops as if he has forgotten what he is going to say. Unsteady hands jitter his tray as the coffee and soup flirt along the edges of the cup and bowl. “This is the first time I have left my home in eight days. Gracie passed away and I have eaten alone since.” His eyes shift to the floor and then come back to me. “I saw that you might be alone and was hoping you might indulge a man with a sick heart by sitting with him.”
I am taken aback as the plastic container carrying my Caesar salad pops from the sudden indent of my thumb. This man in a rain-spotted wrinkled button down shirt and gray slacks awaits my response.
“I wouldn’t ask you to speak or even pay any attention to me. It would be help enough just to sit and have a meal with someone other than an empty chair and the ghosts within my mind.”
His gnarled hands try to steady his tray again. I am not sure what to say, I have an unbridled urge to embrace him, instead I press my lips together forming a smile, nod and intertwine my forearm within the crux of his elbow. It is as if I can feel the ache of his loss shudder through me.
I guide him to the nearest table and set my water and food down and then reach for his tray.
“I have it,” he says. I wait for him to sit in case he needs a hand. “I wouldn’t be worth a pinch of salt if I sat before a kind young lady like yourself. Please sit.”
I do and then watch as he settles in. It isn’t long before our paper napkins find their rightful place and we begin to eat.
He wipes his mouth and then seems to notice that I haven’t looked away from him.
“Don’t let me stop you from doing what you normally do. I meant it when I said I didn’t want to be a pest.”
“You’re not a pest.” Regrettably, these are my first words spoken.
“Fiddle with your phone or whatever it is people do these days.”
“I left my phone in my office.”
He shrugs his shoulders.
“Sounds like things just keep getting better for you. Absent phone, weird old guy asks for your company . . .”
“It’s not as bad as you might think.”
“I’m shaking things up?”
“Will you tell me about her?” As soon as it escapes my mouth, I know I have intruded. “I’m sorry—I . . .”
“No need, I asked you to join me,” he says. His fist tightens around a balled up napkin in his left hand. I doubt he is aware of the strangulation. After a moment his hand relaxes and the tension drains from his face. “Unselfish. She’s unselfish . . .was unselfish. I have trouble with the tense.”
“I don’t mind,” I say.
“Good, because I haven’t been able to manage it well lately.” Two fingers stretch through the handle of his coffee. “That’s awful,” he says after a healthy sip.
“Yes, it is,” I chuckle. The second taste is equally repulsing. “Then why go back for another?”
He looks around his setting in a melodramatic way.
“I’ve got nothing else.”
I am met with a smile and blue eyes that seem to be sparking back to life.
“Let me get you something better to drink?”
“Oh, the trouble,” he says as he dismisses the thought with a gesture of his hand.
“It wouldn’t be.”
“Gracie made awful coffee too,” he says ignoring my second offer. “She did all the work. I hadn’t realized just how much, bills, keeping house, cooking . . .”
“Are there any kids that can help you now?”
“They have their own lives and an ocean between—it’s too much.” There is pain here. Pain I am not willing to prod. “In my haste I must apologize, I have yet to formally introduce myself. Harrison Clark. Harry to most.”
“I’ve always liked the name Harry. It reminds me of strength and honesty.”
“I may be the first one to disappoint you then.”
“I doubt that,” I say.
“I have failed your criterion half a dozen times since I sat down, never mind these last days: I stood in my kitchen for an hour. Just stood there.”
“To ask a stranger for company is courageous and some might say as honest as anyone can be. I think you’re being hard on yourself.”
“Perhaps if I knew your name we would cease to be strangers.”
“Yes,” I say. “I was hoping you wouldn’t have noticed. Maybe I’m the dishonest one.”
“That’s fine. It’s a different world.”
“It’s nothing of the sort. I’m not sure I should tell you my name.”
“Yes, yes, fine. Like I was saying you can never be too careful. I should have taken the clue. Smart girl. Smart girl,” he says as he shakes his head and then sips his coffee.
“No it’s not that. Promise me you’ll be okay.”
“Gracie,” I say. An inaudible gasp holds him for a moment. I reach for his hand. “You said you would be all right.”
“Of all the people in the world . . .”
I fork at my salad while he absorbs our wild happenstance.
“Of all the days and all the places, why here today?” I ask, cutting the silence.
“I don’t know,” seemed liked a nice place to get out of the rain. Why?”
“I’m here for lunch three days a week. It’s a work thing. You wouldn’t happen to be heading this way tomorrow would you?”
A heavy sigh escapes him.
“Yes,” I say.
“Sure. You want to have lunch with me again?”
“Beats being alone, right?”
The lunches became dinners and dinners became countless nights in. I became his caretaker of sorts. Sundays were ours. I never missed a game of chess or an opportunity to tidy up despite being scolded at every chance. I learned all about Gracie and their life together. She was a woman of gumption and industry. It was easy to understand how he could love her for fifty-seven years.
But now it is my turn to endure the present and dote on the past. There will be no more secrets over terrible coffee or playful chiding during the occasional cleanup. I miss him. My Sundays are quiet again and I am left with nothing more than the ghosts in my head and an empty chair.
This is the first in a dozen or so short stories. More to come.
I’ll see you between the pages.
MALAIKA: The Origin of Her Story
Originally posted on October 15th, 2011
Malaika, pronounced Ma-lie-ka, found me in a dream. While in this “other universe,” I discovered a friendship that seemed to stretch back a thousand years—a friendship perhaps initiated long ago in some ancient Heaven. This friend of mine was not a person, but rather a graceful and magnificent black panther and no collar adorned her neck. In this strange and wonderful world we were equals.
While in the dream, we came upon an expanse of rolling hills that seemed as vast as the Sahara. However, in place of hot unforgiving sand, we found ourselves surrounded by plush high wheat that teased our eyes as far as we dared to imagine.
This next paragraph contains a spoiler so you may in fact want to skip it. But I propose you read on, as I give, arguably the essence of the book that followed this dream. For me it was Malaika’s kindhearted spirit that was her story, not the way in which she fell to her demise. Oops I let it slip.
As we crested a hill we came across a huge netted batting cage made of woven ropes as midnight as Malaika’s ebony coat. Within this massive woven cage were scores of batters practicing their batting. As I entered, Malaika followed. Instinctively I understood that she was unwelcome, but Malaika, headstrong as she was, and us being “equals,” it wasn’t my place to tell her what to do. Instead of tobacco farmers armed with machetes, like in the story I eventually wrote, it happened to be these batters with malice filled eyes, wielding wooden blows, causing the demise of this elegant black panther I called “friend.” I stood helpless to stop it.
Truly, upon waking I felt like I had lost a friend. While in the clutches of melancholy and a racked mind, my wife insisted that I note down this dream. As I began to write I felt something shift. As I recalled the dream, her essence was the same but the story I was to tell had altered. She was to be a lioness, from deep in the heart of the Serengeti. A year later Malaika was penned.
Malaika came to me from the heart of the universe—where dreams are born. The vividness and profound sadness I felt after the dream was the catalyst that inspired me to share her story.
And so, now, I share her story with you.
I WOULD RATHER LIVE SEEKING MY OWN DREAM AND FAIL EVERY DAY, THAN TO LIVE ONE DAY PURSUING SOMEONE ELSE’S DREAM, FOR WHICH I CARRY NO FAITH. ~vh~
Competence manifests when knowledge and practice come into harmony. ~vh~
Ultimately everything is temporary. ~vh~
Live in the present with an eye on the horizon. You never know what is to come. ~vh~
Reality: That destination in life where dreams die and sorrow is born. ~vh~
If my past dictates my future, then I am heading toward several more failures followed by at best, mediocrity. ~vh~
The muse has tapped my shoulder and my ear is turned toward her lips. I am waiting for her whisper. ~vh~
"The darkness within that seems to surround us, I assure you is nothing more than illusion—for we are the light. Shine brother… shine!" ~vh~
Writing is easy. You just transcend to a higher echelon of existence and place your hand on God’s shoulder for a moment. See…nothing to it.
“In this life, seek your own answers, and quote yourself for a change.” ~vh~
“Why are we here? Perhaps there is nothing better to do.”~vh~
“In the end it will be you and your reflection.” ~vh~
“Ultimately, absolutely everything is temporary.” ~vh~
“How far must I travel?” the boy asks. “Just one step more than you think you can achieve,” HE replies. ~vh~
"As a writer:
I don’t just make stuff up.
I imagine new worlds and the people within them. And then quietly and with a curious eye, I spy on them to see what they will do next." ~vh~