The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : Uncategorized

It Wasn’t My Intent

It wasn’t my intent to wake you

With stumbling around in the night

But now that you’re up

Can I brew you a cup

And sit with you here in the dawn’s gentle light?

 

It wasn’t my intention to burn

The potatoes and parts of the toast

But talking with you over morning news

I may have been somewhatly over-bemused

and held by your company over-engrossed.

 

It wasn’t my meaning to intervene

and fiddle and fret with your plans

The worry I express

is considerably less

than the fussing I spent on the burnt frying pan.

 

It wasn’t my meaning to overindulge

on the cookies you left on the rack

T’was not just the taste 

that made them erased

but thinking of you took me wistfully back.

 

To when I intended to wed you

and time with you ran at a prime

the things that you baked

became feelings that waked

the thought of you all of the time.

 

It wasn’t my aim to unload

these troubles at the end of the day

I was really just groping

for a way of eloping

just us two, together forever away

 

I certainly didn’t want to bore you

with singing and playing this guitar

I took your quiet to mean you want more

imagine my shock when you started to snore

But you’ve got to rest for tomorrow’s morning star

 

Which I certainly did NOT mean to wake you for.

So, while you were sleeping, there was this.

 

 

 

Must Not Remember.

I sat numbly against the concrete blocks rising up at an awkward, uncomfortable right angle to the concrete sidewalk.  I say, “sat”, but there was less energy than that in it.  My body was laying but my legs sat akimbo, situated by luck, gravity, and the curious fluidity a fifth of Rum gives the body.  And so the two halves of me argued themselves into a knot over the hours.

But there was nowhere else to be.  No hope to be found, no dream to pursue.  Sitting.  Breathing.  Thinking about the Dark Days when sobriety forced me to look, drinking the memory away when I could.

And then a man stopped in front of my inverted cap on the sidewalk beside me.  He squatted down, sympathetic yet sophisticated enough, and asks, “if I give you a Lincoln will you use it for a meal, or for rum?”, noting with a glance the bottle beside me.

I knew this routine. The man didn’t want to think himself party to the debasement of another alcoholic binge.  It seemed so unrighteous and wasteful to him, I’m sure.

I clutched, and clawed with unsteady hands a grip for myself on his scarf.  I pulled up and held myself until I could focus on his eyes.  He returned my tortured gaze squinting through a fog of still-liquored breath, bravely holding his righteous ground.

“Mister”, I croaked, the disuse of my voice from days of isolation in this sea of humanity covering my throat with a gravelly coating, “If you’d seen the horrors of the Deep that I’ve seen, if you’d crossed eyes with Davey Jones as have I, if you’d heard the screams of the men he carries below as their life force escaped their tortured, drowning bodies, you’d pray – not beg – pray, for your last meal to be of the strongest Rum.  A Happy Meal is of no use to me, it only fuels my mind – allows me to remember.  I must…not…remember!”

Much has been made in recent months of the plight of the homeless veteran, and of the suicide rates amongst them.  This post isn’t about rehashing the numbers, because to be honest, the numbers aren’t that helpful.  If I say, “there’s a lot”, I’ve said a little more than many people will ever process.  More to the point, there’s a reason these badly-dressed icons are there.  The guys that make jokes on their cardboard signs on the offramp of the freeway…you know, good for them, but there is more to it than those guys who are functional enough to create an effective marketing campaign.  The guys that I know who are or are very close to homelessness – if they could mount a campaign they would, but then they wouldn’t be homeless either.  If food were all they needed, they’d have figured that out by now.  If righteousness was their issue, well…by my beliefs, they stand forgiven already.

It is a dark place to be, someone who has seen and heard the weapons of war take a life, or many lives, and to look down and see your own hand on the trigger, or to have guided the targeting, to know it was YOU who killed.  It is darker still to walk among those whose existence will never come anywhere near that moment, to stand there on a street corner of sharp-dressed businessmen, elegant matrons, smart-dressed workers…and to see yourself in their midst with blood on your hands.   Many work through it a little worse for wear but still functional.  Why it affects some and not others in such violent spasms of insanity isn’t fully known yet.  Treatment exists, but many vets are so jaded they suspect everything – including the help given.  For different reasons, many reject the only interactions and relationships that will help heal them, and clutch desperately to the tree of forgetfulness.

And when that fails, they often commit suicide.  Numbers vary, and are explained differently by different groups.  But while they are busy counting, recounting, and sorting their numbers and working them around into logical order, another confused, paranoid, isolated, maybe homeless veteran dies in a place he doesn’t deserve to die.  So think about that one guy.  Just one.  Maybe you can find him.  Maybe someone you know can find him. Maybe instead of a $5-dollar bill you can sit there beside him, and listen.  Ask for a story.  Expect something crazy, something that doesn’t even seem real, something you doubt ever happened, and just listen anyway.  Hang with the craziness.

Because he never imagined it would happen to him either.

Showering the Brick Walkways

 I awakened to the last workday of the week, already occupied with the day’s worries.  A Man with five daughters has no shortage of cares, and my mind seemed determined on this day to give each one a good and proper fretting. I rolled towards my nightstand like a runner turning to the starter’s gun.

Three luminescent blue digits glowed dispassionately in an otherwise dark room.

2:07am.

Ready?  Go.

Worry #1: if I don’t go back to sleep I will be too tired to give the rest of my troubles my best.

(I’m nothing if not very, very good at lining up a long, nearly unbroken string of trifles to smooth the momentary gaps between major catastrophes)

But it was true, and the momentary distraction decoupled me from the matter that awoke me in the first place.  I realized that here in this quiet room I couldn’t conduct any of the day’s business and so could enjoy the moment without the niggling sense I should be doing…something.

So I just listened.

At first some of the day’s pressing matters threw words into the space where the night’s sounds gently breathed.  Quietly, the sound of rain on the brick below my bedroom window enveloped the room in its soft, persistent sound.  Rain on the brick.  Rain in the trees.  Rain on the roof, on the soil of my garden.  Rain, no single drop heard, but every drop counting.

I smiled like a child beneath a mothers blanket, smiling at the monsters rage.  I thought of my mother and the blankets she had made for me, the reassuring soft whoosh of the cloth landing against my chest, and the gentle voice reassuring me there are no such thing as monsters while hands tucked the sides in.  I knew there were monsters.  But I knew I had just been given Magic straight from the Queen herself, and that was as good as banishment to my foes.

In the adjoining room my son’s quiet breathing rose and fell.  His needs fill up most days, his comfortable respiration allowed me to move on, knowing the frequent pain he felt was at bay.  This watch-tower was secure, I patrolled on through the night.

I thought to sort through the business of the upcoming day.  In addition to my profession’s demands, Friday is a day to prepare, to put my house in order and make sure I am free to worship un-interrupted on my Sabbath.  I’m not a church-goer by any stretch, and my worship would probably not satisfy even the most liberal doctrine-minded of the saints.  But the act of Friday preparation is deeply engrained, a childhood tradition that connects me to a Greater Consciousness.  I cling to it like a lost sailor,  riding my galleon of gathered debris, picking up bedraggled mates amidst smoke and ruin.  But I prepare nonetheless.  A list of tasks was made and forgotten.  It would never keep till morning.

2:33am.

The glowing digits illuminate a few inches of the night stand’s edge.  One of the early log trucks broke the stillness, lumbering onto the highway a quarter mile away, and then waltzing its way through its gearing to fade into the upper valley, and eventually the hills themselves.  My eyes, drawn to the sound, think heavily on the faint glow through the slats on the blinds.  The full moon has broken through the clouds, a mother checking her child through a cracked door.  I pretend to be a sleep, and vaguely wonder why I am not asleep. The gentle voice of the earth repeats its quieting mantra – one that the light of day drowns out.

The rain returns, showering the brick walkway, and the garden soil, the lawn.  It showers my consciousness.

And it showers my unconsciousness.  Peace, watered and nourished, begins to grow, in a space otherwise forgotten and fertile in my head.

 

Storm-Riding

A narrow lane ends at the edge of the bay. Metal Signs suggest distant destinations to the left and right down a county road that parallels the sea. There are no near destinations.

Other signs suggest a storm. The wind smells of it. The grey sky portends it. The water dropping intermittently on my face whispers a challenge.

Perhaps it was the brashness of the gust of wind off the water, the challenge of the dark clouds spitting water, or maybe just my own mood, I don’t know, but the gradual twist of the throttle I had intended to calmly introduce my bike and myself to the morning’s ride through the storm became something sharper, more insistent. The sudden roar of the bike called to me in a way more than just the sound, more than just the physical surge of a powerful machine – something more than both simply added together. It was a wild call, and the thing inside me that answered was equally wild. It was the call of a wolf with quarry in its nose. It was a call to its pack, to the hunt. Something in my gut I answered.

With The surge of speed beneath me, I felt my gut tighten with millennia-old instinct, reaching out, pulling together my arms, my legs – all of me responded and pulled together on and around the bike into one centered, balanced unit. The wolf-pack gave one voice to the chase. The quarry, this strip of blacktop ahead, began to run.

To my right, the bay bounded along blocking the highway’s escape, nipping at its side with whitecappped teeth. The road raced forward into the hill that loomed ahead.   Cape Lookout’s land mass spilling out into the sea ahead of me and to the right. Winter wind buffeted, threatening rain pelted, futile against the oiled leather of my riding gear.  This was not their first storm.

The forest rose ahead, and the road dove into its cover, twisting, crashing, bucking over road-heaves where the rocks had held beneath, dropping where the winter rains had softened and eroded beneath and cracked the pavement, dropping it into sink-holes. Patiently the pack stuck to the track, into the gloom of the deep old-growth rain forest.

Last month’s storms had knocked down trees across the road. Logging debris – mud, bark, crushed needles and chainsaw oil – tried to hide the trail. I gingerly picked my way through the slick, and picked up the scent again where logs were stacked high in a newly cut clearing on the side of the road. Flushed from it’s hiding, the roars burst over the summit of the Cape.

We caught up the fresh scent again at the bottom of the lee side of the cape. The road panicked, And broke out in a straight run through the dunes.

The bike belled out its guttural howl and surged forward again. What the pack lacks in speed for the chase it makes up for in dogged persistence. The road ran across farmland, dotted with yellow spring daffodils, through bogs and mud flats, over bridges, through town where the dead moved about in shiny cars sullied by rain spray, insulated against weather and life, and finally joined the highway.

The buffeting wind only strengthened my determinationIMG_5870
The sting of rain pelting my face tightened my balance, perfected loping instinctive cadence.

The hills faded in my mind. The trees disappeared.

There was only this road, and my quarry.
It’s trail
It’s scent

And my hunger.

Dear automated toilet:

I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I was merely shifting my weight, not standing up.  Although now I clearly AM finished, I was here to leave something else behind besides my dignity.  That seems to have jostled loose somewhere between caroming off the inside stall wall and the sincerity of the high-pitched scream of terror I didn’t know I had in me.  Should my dignity come sniffing around looking for me, please let it know I had to go on without it, and that it will have to find its own fare home.
Dear automated faucet:
Yes, I agree, “recoiled in horror at the display of immaturity” of your associate is the only proper tone, might I remind you that I still have needs.  I have places my hands under the sensor several times now, and am failing to develop that “freshly-washed” feeling, or, even, a mild case of damp hands.  If you could collect yourself for a moment, perhaps we could put this whole sordid scene behind us.  Or, like Moses and his rock, will I have to resort to striking you with my staff to conjure water out of you.
P.S.  if you could talk to your little friend the automated soap dispenser, perhaps suggest he breathe once in a while.  The small squeak of product he currently produces strikes me as a bit uptight.
Dear automated paper towel dispenser:
I admire your restraint in the face of such calamity, but could we remember that you are dispensing drying towels, not postage stamps.  Please note that my hands bear no volumetric resemblance to those of, say, small raccoons.  Also, the measured solemnity with which you pause between cycles is impressive, but while it would be admired in, say, a palace guard your stoicism comes across as gruff reluctance, and does not play well to the service industry to which you are employed.

How on earth”, people have been asking me for years, “did you wind up on submarines?”

Well, lads and lasses, I’m glad you asked. Pull alongside, and I’ll tell you the tale. Parts have been bandied about, heard, repeated, and re-heard by friends, family, birds of the field and fish of the Sea. But few, if any, have heard the whole story.

Early fall of ’83, I was driving north along McLoughlin Blvd through Portland, Oregon. It was a typical October day in the Pacific Northwest – crisp, clear – the kind of autumn day one basks in, as the summer bustle comes to a close and winter starts to hint that it has designs on your well-tended garden. But I was not in a basking mood. Oh, I was in a mood, but it was the kind of mood that you only describe by saying, simply, “I’m in a mood”, and people instantly know what you mean.

And step back a pace or two.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself already.

I was only a few short weeks past the point where I couldn’t just couldn’t work as a CNA in a nursing home one more day. I had seen an ad in the newspaper for people to sell vacuum cleaners, and I had signed myself right up for that, expecting to be raking in the dough any time now. On my first day, we sat in training, learning how to demonstrate the equipment. On the second day, we sat in the basement of the shop, and sang rousing sales songs, which I could only mumble through in shamed sub-audible mortification. On the third day, after singing/mumbling songs, I and my trainer visited homes, and he showed me how “easy it was”. The man was smooth. I’d have bought two bags of ice from him to cool down my igloo. For the 4th through 10th day, I attempted to sell vacuum cleaners.

Let me reiterate that: Attempted…to sell.

On “The Fateful Day Minus One” day, I finally sold my first vacuum cleaner – to a young woman in North Portland who, for reasons beyond my naiveté of the time had a huge round bed with a red crushed velvet cover on it in the front room of her 1930’s house. She had wanted to buy the machine on credit. I helped her fill out the paperwork, and left the vacuum cleaner in an outburst of wanton optimism.

On the Fateful Day, the first call I got was from my boss, wanting to know why the heck I’d left the vacuum cleaner with a Woman of Ill-Repute(not his exact words, but you get the idea) having received no cash, and whose credit was no good and who would undoubtedly never pay for the machine. I had no idea what he was talking about. So stunned was I that it was another month, in a quiet moment of hard, sober reflection after another cold, arduous day of boot camp in the sub-arctic midwest, that I realized that for every one of those 30 days I had subconsciously carried with me a vision of him frothing at the mouth, as he told me to go pick the dang thing up and come in to the shop. It wasn’t until I could see it in humour that I could let it go. But I digress and once again am ahead of myself.

So it came to be that I found myself traveling along McLoughlin Blvd on a crisp, clear October morning, beauty that was completely lost to me. I got about halfway across the city; peeved, un-caffeinated, depressed, vociferously berating myself for dropping out of college, for taking this job, and for just about everything I’d ever done in my short span upon this earth. I was half-way through muttering a freshly-turned phrase under my breath when I passed a military recruiter’s station.

The U-turn was abrupt, fast, noisy, and undoubtedly illegal, though I couldn’t have cared less at the moment. I still don’t. Best use of unsafe and illegal street driving ever.

I entered the building, and saw four areas, one each for the 4 branches of the military. I knew virtually nothing about any branch of the service, except that my dad had been in the Air Force. I stepped up to that window.

The blue-uniformed Air Force recruiter nearly took his feet off his civilian desk, but…not quite. He was smug, smirky, and a little too nonchalant. He told me that to enter the Air Force, I had to choose a rate, and then wait for an opening in that rate. I didn’t even know what a rate was, let alone what I wanted. This would take patience. I had a wife, new baby, and no job. Patience was not on the menu.

The Marine almost spoke an intelligible word of English. Whatever it was he said, he was very, very enthusiastic about. To be honest, I had no idea what language he was speaking, but he spoke with the clarity of a door-gunner, which meant you didn’t have to understand a single word to know you had to hurry up and/or get down. I like words. I don’t think the Marines would have appreciated my dedication to enunciation.

The army guy asked me a few oddly specific questions, and then all but had me signed up to become a helicopter pilot. Heck, it sounded fun, and he was excited to get me, I was excited to get paid…

Oh yeah, about that. All of the sudden we were back to the “wait a couple years to get into that program” thing. Apparently it’s a popular modality in the military. In the meantime I saw myself living on an army base in some godfersaken land that not even the natives want, doing virtually nothing, expending a lot of sweat doing it – waiting, hoping, sweating…suddenly this guy’s enthusiasm seemed a little needy.

And so finally I came to the last office, the Navy.

The Navy guy…offered me a cup of coffee, had me take a quick version of the ASVAB test, and said that if I could pass the real ASVAB half as well as that one I could be employed by my government and on my way to an exotic land (Great Lakes, Illinois) next week.

As long as being a submariner was what I wanted.

I looked at him funny. He reclined in his steel folding chair, gestured towards me magnanimously with his cup and said, “it pays more”, reached behind him for the pot, and refilled my coffee. I asked him how he knew about subs, he pointed at his chest, at a marine-gargoyle-looking insignia he wore on his chest. He told me that out of everything he wore on his chest he was – and would always be – most proud of that pin, the submarine insignia.

Dolphins. That was the moment. Right there, while he talked of being a submariner, I knew what I had been looking for all along. Something kindled inside me. I slowly began to feel like I was on fire. I was going to wear those fish. I was going to wear them well.

He refilled my coffee cup. We talked some more. We drank more coffee. The fire in me warmed. My blood flowed faster. Or maybe it was the caffeine, I’m not sure.

“You’re sure you want to leave now? There are programs I think you’d do well…”

I interrupted, “I have a daughter to feed, a wife to shelter, and a vacuum cleaner hell-hound on my trail. I haven’t got time to be that special.”

Ok then. You leave in two weeks.”

Two weeks later, a jet-plane carried me aloft from Portland in the late afternoon, and flew into the deepening gloom towards Chicago. The blanket of darkness rolled in from the eastern horizon, like a doom coming to pass. I stared hard at the approaching darkness, and something in me awoke.

I feared no darkness.

That hell-hound Kirby Classic would never track me here, and if it did… I’d be ready.

I never heard what became of the vacuum cleaner.

2013 Summer BC Ride slide show

Riding through BC in the summer is a fine thing.  Here’s a slide show, set to a good song.  Enjoy:

A friend of mine saw an oddity today, and posted a challenge on facebook to come up with a fun backstory to it.  I might have gotten a little carried away, I don’t know.  This is still pretty raw, but thought I’d throw it out there…

 

 

Ann climbed the concrete slope under the bridge one more time, making sure her little girl still was safely tucked in blankets and cardboard, and then ventured out with her present. She had finished sorting through the bag of clothes donated to the women’s’ shelter and given to her, finding what fit, what didn’t fit – and what she could not wear. Much of what she had received had been usable in some way. But there were a few articles that made no sense – a man’s pair of jeans, a coat that could have fit two of her, 3 dresses that didn’t fit at all and probably were beyond wearing by anyone.

 

And a pair of fabulous shoes.

 

The shoes fit perfectly. It was almost as if they had been made for her. But bright red, with 4” heels – she had put them on, dreamed with them, walked a few awkward steps in them – but they were not her. She could not wear something so out of place with her situation in life. She set them in the “donations” pile hesitantly, wishing and dreaming. But these shoes did not fit into her life.

 

The “donations” pile was a pile she always made each time she got a box. She would take the articles in that pile, and put them in places where people who needed just that sort of article would be most likely to find them. She had earlier taken the jeans and coat to the opposite corner of the onramp, across the onramp’s road and placed them lightly on the fence that kept animals – and people – from accidentally wandering onto the busy freeway above. She knew there were men there that would find them.

 

The dresses she set another block away, behind a tree where another woman would probably pass, walking through the park there where she frequently patrolled. And then Ann returned to her bridge, laid her little girl down to sleep in the nooks formed by the bridge girders, and looked again at the shoes, thinking hard.

 

 

Charlotte twitched with the eager energy of someone absolutely bored to tears, anxious to do something, anything, ready for a good excuse for something crazy. She had never been especially good at long-term relationships, because of this boredom of hers. It had landed her in hot water with the law occasionally, but her reputation as a scientist had gotten her out of anything serious. People would often say, “oh, that’s just Charlotte”, and try to pretend nothing serious had ever happened. Brilliance in her profession had excused things before, but had never explained them. And explanation was all she had ever wanted. She could not understand why she could not stick with anyone, why everything in her near-celebrity life made her so restless, why she sought for something new constantly. And it sometimes hurt. It hurt to know people didn’t understand. It hurt to know there was something wrong inside. But it did not hurt nearly as bad to leave a relationship as it did to stay in it.

 

On this morning, a brutal fog made her glad she had a driver. She often felt silly, having a car come for her that was not hers, and a chauffeur open the door for her. It made her feel even more isolated, and something unreal always lurked inside the gaping maw of the open limousine door. But on this day she was glad not to be the one at the controls. She stared intently at the passing road, trying to guess if she was able to see further than the driver. But it was the road, precisely, that she watched, and not the traffic. Suddenly, out of nowhere she yelled, “Stop the car!” The driver’s sudden lurch to the shoulder only helped the door open faster.

When the idea first hit Ann’s mind, she nearly clapped with glee at the though of the scene that would unfold. It was almost a wicked thought, and she checked herself. It was an unchristian thought, she told herself, to tap into the vanity of the privileged ones, and tempered her image into a kinder way of thinking of it. And then she stole away from her sleeping child, on a mission of joy only she would ever understand.

She had waited until the wee hours, because being out where she could be seen was too risky. She furtively dashed up the onramp until she reached the top, and measured herself up against the “Merging Traffic” sign before counting off 20 paces beyond it. And there, 20 diminutive paces beyond the 82nd street onramp “Merging Traffic” sign, she delivered her payload. Two minutes later she lay beside her daughter, snickering in her mind at the vain but happy discovery some rich lady would have the next morning, one pair of bright red fabulous pumps found on the side of the freeway, free for the taking. The sound of an early morning motorcycle accelerating onto the freeway more than covered the quiet laughter.

 

Charlotte was already back up the freeway before the car completely stopped. The chauffeur tumbled out as fast as he safely could, already knowing the only thing he could do is follow and hope for the best. He caught up with Charlotte 200 yards up the freeway. She was holding a red pair of shoes, and repeating over and over, “This is so weird! This is so weird”, twirling around as if she expected a fairy godmother to pop into existence at any moment.

 

“What, precisely, is so weird?” came a man’s voice that was not any of the ones she expected.

She looked around her, and realized it was not the chauffeur who had spoken. Both she and the chauffeur realized with a shock that raised the hair on their necks that the voice was from a very large biker crouched next to his machine, shrouded in the fog on the onramp. His motorcycle sat silent, and he had a screwdriver in his hand, still held up to the bike. He spoke into his machine, as if the question were not intended for her. But since neither the bike nor Charlotte responded, he repeated his question, this time looking over his shoulder, his hands still held to the machine, “What, I said, is so weird about standing on the side of this freeway in the fog in what I can only refer to as your Sunday best?” The question had a slight sense of irritation to it, as if she’d interrupted him from a meditation. In a way she had, but she did not know this about him yet. All she knew was that the leather jacket tossed over the seat could have clothed her, the chauffeur, her best friend Kim and possibly a large dog, all at the same time. She had to stop herself from the fleeting question of whether it was one cow’s hide that clothed many such men, or many cows who clothed this one. It was one of those types of questions that came to her in times of stress, and one of those that had gotten her in trouble more than once for asking out loud. To her own surprise, she actually answered the question.

 

“These shoes. They were sitting here on the freeway.”

 

“Yes. I see a fair number of shoes on the freeway”, said the biker, in a way that made her think this moment beside his bike was one he was very familiar with. “It’s not as weird as you might think”

 

“But these shoes are mine”, she wheedled, as if talking to her mother explaining her way out of possession of the neighbor’s pie plate. The act fell flat, and she was suddenly brought back to the reason she was standing, in the fog, on the freeway in early morning traffic, with an anxious chauffeur and a really big, broken down biker. The gravity of the situation dawned on her in a way the chauffeur had thought about 50 yards ago. She took a step towards the chauffeur, which was conveniently a step further away from the biker. It occurred to her that a good explanation might protect her. “These shoes – I saw them as we went past. They are mine! Well, they were mine, until I gave them away last week. And then I changed my mind, but I went to the donation center and they were already gone and…” her words were gushing out so fast they crashed into one another, and it was evident that the sound of them disturbed his meditation.

 

The biker rose slowly, and turned in a way that can only have the proper effect in a fog. She stopped talking, feeling suddenly like a little girl nattering about her tea yesterday with Ms. Matilda, the doll in the corner, and all the news that dolls like Ms. Matilda’s were prone to have, cares about the state of the stuffed animals, and worrying about whether Darjeeling was really any better than Earl Grey on a day like this and didn’t she think the curtains would be better served trying to match with a different bed cover…

He carefully set his tools down inside the roll unfolded on the tank, picked up the rag laying next to it, and began meticulously wiping his hands, looking at her with his head turned just a little aside, as if listening to a curiousity at the county fair. It made her feel uncomfortable, as if she were about to be examined for broken parts as well, and she decided to stop sounding like something broken. She stepped a little to one side, then back clutching and glancing at the bizarre discovery in her hands, unsure whether the next gesture from him would be helpful or dangerous.

His face was a cross between the Ghost of Christmas Present and Captain Ahab. Sun, wind, and miles had done a lot of work to create lines on his face, but they had formed in laughter, and he bore the look of an old man smiling regardless of what he wanted to look like. She decided perhaps he was trying to look serious now, and without him actually asking the question, she held the shoes aloft as evidence.

“Interesting”, he intoned, and looked back down the onramp as if a thought had stuck its head out from around the corner, beckoning. He sniffed the air, and thought hard for a moment, as if in a trance, and neither of the two people before him thought to interrupt him. A minute passed and his thinking was clearly of something or someone so entirely different than them that Charlotte began to feel as if she were intruding just to be standing there.

He stirred, began to say something, changed suddenly and addressed the chauffeur instead, “Who, precisely, are you?”

 

“Jeffrey, Sir”, the chauffeur responded stiffly. “ I am Ms. Charlotte’s driver, and am here at her service”, the last part aimed at nudging her to recall the car, the destination, and perhaps a thought for their mutual safety. Charlotte blithely ignored all three. The biker looked the driver up and down, glancing twice at Charlotte and back again, apparently assessing his worthiness for such service.

 

“How long have you been here?” she asked, holding the shoes up at him again as if the question was supposed to answer more than a quantity of time.

 

“Oh, I don’t know. Tune-ups are less a matter of time and more a matter of sound” he said slowly, as if all three were standing in a brick garage somewhere safe and sheltered from the elements, and a philosophical discourse on harmony with one’s machine was the most pertinent topic available. He started to disengage, to return to the work at hand.

 

“And you just come here on the freeway to tune up your bike?” she asked incredulously, completely forgetting the shoes.

 

“Well…” he said, pondering, “I want the bike to smell where it’s going, to be in the mood it will be in while on the highway” He said, and at first she thought he was serious, until she caught the tail end of his eyes rolling as he was turning away, chuckling silently.

 

“wait!” She cried, losing her sense of intimidation. “Did you see anyone while you were here?”

 

“Did I see someone stop by, and drop off a pair of shoes for you? No!” he said, mildly amused. “They said they were for a miss Amelia Earhart, and if I were to see her, would I please see to it that she notices and receives them.” “But…” and he paused himself, almost getting caught in another thought again, “…I have only seen one person today, and she was down there” he nudged his head back down the onramp. “I wouldn’t expect her to have anything to do with those shoes though. I think she was homeless, she’d have picked them up if she knew about them, I expect.” And with that he reached back in to his bike’s mechanicals. Charlotte was already gone, running down the onramp. Jeffrey stood, watching her disappear, watching the biker return to his work, and wondered if he shouldn’t just return to the car for all the good he seemed to be doing.

 

Ann’s sleep had been more disturbed than even usual this morning. Amongst the various highway sounds that always kept her sleep light, something else she couldn’t quite finger gnawed at her efforts at unconsciousness. Something was thinking about her. It made her uneasy – she had felt this feeling before, in fact, it was a recurrent thought that formed the main reason she was living under this bridge. She knew, in her head, that it was just the paranoia, that nothing was really there. But that sense in her heart that Something knew about her, and wanted to know more – was after her – kept her on the run. She had moved from house to house, from man to man, until eventually she had given up on houses, and given up on men, because the Something always found her, always came sniffing around, never showing itself, just thinking…just seeking her, and driving her insane.  She had a child to think about now, and didn’t want the insanity to return.  But now, in this early morning, she felt it again. Something wasn’t quite as it was usually. And she felt afraid.

 

Daylight was driving back the shadows, and Ann knew it was time to move on to the shelter for something to eat. Her young daughter stirred, and woke, and that made it necessary to move on with her day. She gathered the two bags she allowed herself, and her daughter, checked for cars so no one would see her descend, and began to shuffle down the slope to the sidewalk. Her kind thoughts of secret generosity had disappeared, and she was on the run again. As she reached the bottom, a woman’s voice startled her from behind.

 

“Excuse me!”, called the woman. Ann wanted to run back up to the girders, but she knew it was useless. She heard the woman’s running and turned, ready to be ashamed. The woman had stopped running, and now stood with mouth agape, staring. Ann’s gaze hung near the ground, heavy with expectation.

Charlotte rounded the corner of the offramp, and saw a mother furtively descending from the girders of the bridge. She flailed the shoes towards the woman, and bounded towards her, hoping to catch up before the woman reached the bottom. They arrived at the same time, and she called to the woman twice, “excuse me…EXCUSE ME!” As the woman stopped and turned, whatever Charlotte was going to say fled her mind, as yet another shock sprung itself upon her.

The woman was exactly the same height as Charlotte. Her stance was not so upright, and her face was worn with cares and fears Charlotte could not imagine. But it was Charlotte’s own face. Her stance bore the same underlying strength, her face, beneath the lines of worry bore the same radiance and intelligence. They looked more than just sisters. They looked like the same person. Charlottes shocked stare lasted long enough for Ann to look up and return the gaze.

 

“Ann?” Was the only word spoken. It had been so long since Ann had heard that name used that it took a moment to sink in and process, an another moment to sink in that this person knew her name. She looked again, squinting to get a clearer view of this unknown Someone that knew her name. The eighteen years since their last meeting had been a lot longer for her than for Charlotte, and it took a lot longer for her mind to traverse that span of time before she could comprehend what was happening. But when she did, she dropped her two bags, nearly dropped her child, and dropped herself to her knees, caught only at the last minute by her twin sister.  The red shoes, still held in Charlotte’s hand, were soon stained with tears of joy shared between them on the fog-dampened sidewalk.

 

The origination of the term, “Before Cats”

Dog Historians have long debated the origination of the term “Before Cats”. An important clue to this mystery was realized during an epiphanal moment in 2010 by the owner of a Wheaten Terrier during an interruption to his study of Christ’s last days, created by a particularly intense few minutes while his dog worked frantically to get at the cat sauntering across the back yard. The serendipitous combination of study and calamity fused together two seemingly unrelated thoughts during the dramatic display of enmity – that a connection might exist between the concept of “last supper” and “before cats”.

It became clear that three previously unconnected terms were all inextricably connected; the mystical “Before Cats” terminology, an obscure text fragment referencing “Great Snack of Bubastis” (in which the hieroglyphic for “appetizer” and “cats” appear to occur together), and the downfall of the Egyptian Great SnackDynasties. Indeed, as this new connection was examined, it became clear they all reference a single calamitous, barbaric moment in Canine history.

Some say the Egyptian Dynasty was destroyed by armies, which led to the sudden and mysterious disappearance of the Sacred Cats. This new revelation allowed scholars to discard the notion that the overthrow of the Empire was the cause rather than the effect of this disappearance, and embrace the obvious truth that the existence of the Dynasty was wholly dependent on the veneration of these cats. Their demise left the population disheartened and vulnerable to the dog-loving northerners.

Dogs are virtually mum on the subject. My own dog just says, “hey”, and moves on to squirrels and other distractions. He says “hey” to a lot of things. I’m studying his intonations to decipher some of its meaning.

The Lost Second Book of Dog

Historians and archeologists have searched for centuries for the legendary lost second Book of Dog. But on a cool November day in 1969, after searching for his superball for three days and finding it while cleaning up after his dog, a young Junior Explorer realized what historians would later confirm, that it was eaten as part of a homework project in 792 BC (Before Cats)