Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Gabriel’

Easter Island’s Baby

Easter Island’s Baby

This is a piece I just finished from a block of Mongolian black marble. It was the most difficult of anything I’ve done so far, in reference to sanding and getting all the nicks and scratches out of it. I’ve dubbed it Easter Island’s Baby.

Originally, I was going to have it coming out of the ground, like the sculptures on Easter Island, but it worked better and was more secure, springing forth from the pieces of white alabaster. I love the dark black contrasted with the white stone and the dark green pot.

The next carving is with some Italian white ice alabaster.

Hope these photos do this justice. I’m getting a little better with each stone.

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The Mindfulness Revolution

This is an excerpt of a review I wrote for The New York Journal of Books.

The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life. Edited by Barry Boyce (Shambhala Publications, March 8, 2011).

The revolution to which this book refers is the widespread use and acceptance of mindfulness and how it has been applied throughout society. “Mindfulness” in this context refers to mindfulness meditation practice. And one of the wonderful aspects of The Mindfulness Revolution is that the essays address opportunities for mindfulness in everyday actions, such as shopping and online activities.

One of the contributors to this collection, Jan Chozen Bays, provides a simple, yet eloquent description of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself—in your body, heart and mind—and outside yourself in your environment.” It involves the awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviors without judgment or criticism. Further insight can also include investigating who or what it is that is aware of our experience when being mindful.

Historically, the most prominent practitioner of mindfulness was Siddhartha Gotama, who became known as The Buddha. His meditation practice and teachings spread around the world and have been used for over 2,500 years. Similar methods of contemplation, prayer, and concentration are also present in every major religious tradition.

In the West, one of the first pioneers in establishing mindfulness as a secular discipline was Jon Kabat-Zinn, who begin sharing it with his patients to help them manage various health issues and concerns. He called it Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This compilation looks at how mindfulness and MBSR has since been applied and the many forms and avenues it has taken.

The book is divided into four complementary sections by editor Barry Boyce and provides a comprehensive overview and specifics, with examples, instructions, research, and lessons.

Part I is titled How to Practice Mindfulness. Part II is called Mindfulness in Daily Life. The third section is Mindfulness, Health and Healing. The fourth area is Interpersonal Mindfulness. The excerpts for each section are provided by experienced and well-known practitioners that include Jan Chozen Bays, Jack Kornfield, Bob Stahl, Chogyam Trungpa, Norman Fischer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nat Hanh, Sue Moon, Elisha Goldstein, Daniel Siegel, Steve Flowers, Peman Chodron, Susan Chapman and The Fourteenth Dalai Lama. There is also an excellent resource section and contributor bios at the end of the collection.

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Grandson Jupiter

He’s almost 2 years old, has beautiful blond curly hair, is very smart, strong and huggable and has more energy and spunk than a supersonic jet on speed!

That is not Superman, but our grandson Jupiter. You could say I’m biased and of course, that would be completely mistaken. I am more than biased, I’m prejudiced and will fly hundreds of miles to hang out with this amazing bundle of energy and cuteness manifested in human form.

His parents have combined their DNA, experience and compassion and love to give this little tyke a dream home that his wee friends can only droo.l over and watch with envy. It isn’t that their parental units or unit is inferior or not good in many ways, but Jupiter’s Mama and Papa are really stepping up to the proverbial plate of parenthood and surrounding their son with limits, support, encouragement and love.

Let’s see, how many other thousands of words can I use to gush on about Jupiter Gabriel Constans. Oh yes, he has the coolest middle name in the world and calls me Gapa. I’ve got to stop writing right now and go peek in on this sleeping beauty who looks like a cherub in human clothing.

A Good Book – Part 2

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

A GOOD BOOK – PART 2 (Conclusion)

As they drove home Ruthie went on and on about Alice’s novel, almost repeating her every word. Sy paid particularly close attention to his driving until Ruthie stopped her monologue long enough to ask, “What did you think? Did you like it?”

Sy cleared his throat and carefully replied, “She sure has a way with words.”

“But did you like it?” Ruthie reiterated. “Did her words touch you?”

“Oh, it touched me alright,” he said to himself, recalling an argument that he and Alice had once had that sounded remarkably close to her characters. “It was good,” he replied. “A little unrealistic, but good.”

“Unrealistic?” Ruthie questioned, sounding more surprised than she’d intended. “How so?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled, wishing he’d left well enough alone. “Do you think men are that uncaring and unconscious?”

“Yes, most.” She rubbed his shoulder gently. “But not all.”

They gazed into the fog that had descended on the blacktop.

“Have I ever treated you like that?” He asked, almost imperceptibly.

“Like the guys in her story?”

Sy nodded, ever so slightly.

Ruthie looked out the side window at the fence posts appearing and disappearing in the thick soup along the edge of the highway. She didn’t reply until they rolled into their driveway and Sy turned off the key.

“Actually,” she said softly. “Yes. You have.”

Sy felt a chill up his spine as he got out and opened the door for Ruthie. “Not me,” he told himself. “That was the old Sy.”

They walked to the house. He held open the screen as she unlocked the front door and entered. Sy took their coats and hung them on the antique maple coat rack while Ruthie turned up the thermostat. “I’ll make us some tea,” she said and went into the kitchen.

Sy followed, sat down at the kitchen table he’d hand made from pine wood not long after they’d married and watched her move in her familiar surroundings. How many times had he’d seen her at that old gas stove, cooking something up for him or the kids; a thousand, ten thousand?

As she placed their large mugs of decaffeinated Earl Gray on the table, sat down and leaned back on the fading daisy print wallpaper, he asked, “When?”

“When what?” she smiled.

“When have I acted like the men in that woman’s book?”

“Only about every day for the last thirty-four years,” she said.

“Are you serious?” he gasped.

“No,” she said. You’re not as blatant or consistent, but you have your moments.”

She sipped her tea and watched him through the steam.

“For example?” he queried.

Ruthie looked at his lined face and sunken blue eyes, trying to surmise how much and how willing he was to hear. Disregarding her past experiences and the hundreds of times she’d brought the issue to his attention, she decided to grab her red cape of hope and enter the bullring.

“Remember last Friday, after I’d been tutoring English to that cranky old German woman half the day and then worked at the church office all afternoon?”

“Yes.”

“Remember that night?”

“What about it?” he asked, trying to gauge the forthcoming charge.

“Remember when we went to bed and I almost fell asleep before my head hit the pillow?”

“So?” He didn’t see any connection.

“Remember how you snuggled up behind me and were all hot and horny and I said, ‘Not tonight, just hold me?’”

Sy put down his cup, which made a louder thud on the table than he’d expected. “Yes and I totally understood and said so, remember?” His mouth was taut and his breath shallow.

Ruthie smiled. “Yes, you said as much, but I could feel otherwise.”

“How could you feel anything?!” he declared; his shoulders erect. “I went to the living room and read.”

Ruthie went to the stove and returned with more hot water. She filled his cup, then her own and sat back down. “It didn’t feel like you understood the next morning when you barely touched me and only replied in monosyllables. It felt like you had closed down shop and checked out.”

“What’s wrong with wanting a little love from the person who says she always loves me?” Sy declared, his face curling like sour milk.

“But I DO love you.” Ruthie leaned forward and placed her hand on Sy’s callused knuckles. “Why do I have to prove it with sex?”

“You don’t have to prove anything!” Sy exclaimed, sliding his hand away and tightly grasping his cup. “I know you love me, but what’s wrong with wanting to share a little sugar to show it?”

Ruthie sat back and stared at her now empty palm. “Nothing, if it’s at a time when I have the energy and my body is willing and able.”

“Well,” he snarled. “There you go.”

“Did you hear me?” She looked intently at the spot on his forehead where his wrinkles assembled to worry.

“Loud and clear.” Sy went to the sink without looking back. He rinsed out his cup, put it in the dishwasher and turned around. “I’ve heard it a thousand times. You love me, but you don’t want to make love with me.”

“Stop it!” Ruthie stood abruptly. “Just stop it!” She took two rapid steps, faced Sy eye to eye and said, “Are you implying that we never have sex, that I never kiss you, give you pleasure or want you inside of me!?”

Sy tried to move, but Ruthie put her arms on either side of his and pressed herself firmly against his pelvis. “No, you aren’t saying that, because you know that would be a lie.”

“But . . .”

“But, it’s never enough, is it?”

Sy hesitated. “Well . . .”

Ruthie shook her head side to side, her cape of hope torn to shreds. Her eyes watered. She tried to turn away from her predictable hard-headed husband, but Sy firmly and gently, grabbed her wrist and stopped her.

“Don’t you see,” Ruthie cried, “how that makes me feel? No matter what I do, it’s not enough. I am never enough.” She let herself be pulled closer. “Why can’t you just love me as I am?”

Sy took her arms and put them over his shoulders then encircled her waist with his own. “I do,” he said.

“It doesn’t feel like that when I don’t perform on demand or the way you want.”

“I’m sorry,” Sy said softly. He wiped the tears from under her eyes.

“I love you more than anyone I’ve ever known,” Ruthie cried, “but feeling forced to have sex, to not alienate you, isn’t love, it’s fear, just like Hooks says. That kind of love feels coerced, manipulated; manufactured to fit some imaginary image of how you think I’m supposed to be.”

Sy felt a lump rising in his throat, as his hold on Ruthie tightened. Her words seeped through his weathered walls. Something cracked open.

“Why now?” he wondered. “After all these years. Was it something Ruthie said or how she said it? Was it Alice Hawkins or Hooks, whatever she went by these days?” Whatever it was, his comfortable delusion of being different from other men was crumbling under the weight of a searing reality.

Ruthie felt the shift. She could feel his skin of fear peeling away. She could see him turning, painfully turning away from conditioning, expectation and judgment. She had never felt so completely and openly accepted by this man. His love was palpable. He saw her. He really saw her.

“I’ve always loved you,” she whispered.

“I know,” he cried. “I’ve kept you away for so long.”

She wiped his face and her own, then looked at her wet hands. “We should boil these tears instead of water for tea,” she grinned.

Sy felt like an anvil had been lifted from his chest. He could breathe freely. He sighed deeply. Each breath released another encrusted layer of tension, doubt and the fear of rejection.

***

When they went to bed that night they looked like they were teenagers who had just fallen in love for the first time. Their eyes were full of anticipation and unlike most teens, knew who they were and where they had been. Their lovemaking was slow, passionate, peaceful and fulfilling. Their history held them and freed them.

After turning out the light, Sy snuggled up to Ruthie’s behind and put his arm around her soft belly.

“You know that Ms. Hooks?”

“Yeah,” Ruthie said, on the verge of dozing off.

“I knew her back in college.”

“Really,” she sleepily replied.

“I mean I really knew her, like intimately.”

Ruthie raised Sy’s arm off her belly and turned to face him.

“Really.”

“Really,” he said, his hot breath caressing her cheek.

“Tell me,” she said, her eyes wide open in the dark. “Tell me all about it.”

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A Good Book

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

A GOOD BOOK – PART 1

“Hurry up Sy! We’ll be late, Ruthie hollered from the hallway, as she threw on her wool coat.

The last time they arrived late at a book signing at Sophie’s Choice, to hear Isabel Allende read from her latest release, they’d ended up by the front door with biting cold wind attacking the back of their necks every time someone entered or left the building. Sophie’s was there favorite literary hangout among the plethora of bookstores in their academically diverse college town. It was named after the owner, Sophie Thompson, who had taken her sister’s advice and appropriated the familiar title.

“Sy!” she yelled again, just as he turned the corner from the upstairs bedroom and descended the aging wooden stairs, which squeaked like asthmatic mice with every step.

“I’m coming. I’m coming,” he grinned, still tucking in his shirt. “You’d rather I go naked?!”

Ruthie’s lips parted slightly as she watched her husband of thirty-four years. He walked with a slight limp from his hip surgery the previous summer.

“Damn,” she thought. He looks good.”

She waited until he reached the last step, stood on her toes and shared her thoughts by planting a kiss on his familiar weathered lips and giving him a squeeze around his hips. When their mouths parted he kissed her slightly rouged cheeks and put his large fingers through her shoulder-length wavy gray hair.

As he snapped his tan parka, he asked, “Who is this we’re seeing again?”

“Alice Hooks.”

“Hooks?” he rolled questionably across his tongue, while holding the screen door open for Ruthie to lock the door. She put her arm in his as they walked towards there eighties Plymouth. “Isn’t she that environmental fiction writer you like so much?”

“No,” Ruthie said, waiting for him to unlock the car door. “You’re thinking of Barbara Kingsolver.”

Sy opened her door.

“Thanks Hon,” she said, as she sat on the old torn leather seat.

Sy went around the front, climbed in, patted the dashboard for good luck and turned the ignition.

“Still purrs like a kitten,” he said sweetly for the ten-thousandth time.

They drove out of the gravel driveway, down Chestnut Street, towards town on the straight and narrow two-lane road they had driven their kids and step-kids to school and themselves to and from work for thirty years. This was Sy’s second marriage. He had two children from his previous marriage and he and Ruthie had purposefully created one of their own.

The next in kin had all flown the coup long ago and kept in touch with their “old folks” with fluctuating degrees of attention, based on their needs and/or personality. The one constant connection with their offspring was their children’s children. They had three of these grandchildren, two by birth and one adopted, to whom they were severely devoted and unashamedly tethered.

“Alice Hooks is a writer of romantic feminist fiction,” Ruthie explained. “The book she’s reading from tonight is Close Encounters. It was nominated for The National Book Award last year.”

“Sort of like Gloria Steinem falling in love with Steven Spielberg?”

“I knew you’d say something like that,” Ruthie sighed. “I just knew it.”

“Well,” Sy replied, still grinning at his own joke, “I had to say it then didn’t I? I don’t want to destroy your expectations or diminish your superior powers of Elementary Spiritual Perceptions.”

Ruthie gently slapped his leg with the back of her hand.

“Far from it,” she smiled. “Close Encounters is about a woman called Maya. She’s an anthropologist and professor, who circumnavigates the globe on research expeditions. While studying antiquities and cultures she also searches for a man who is willing to practice feminism in bed, as well as at work. Every time she thinks she’s found her mate, he starts to subtly or blatantly manipulate her and splits when he doesn’t get what he thinks he wants.” Ruthie sighed noticeably.

Sy’s smile had vanished. He gazed straight ahead, as if he was a student driver concentrating on not making a mistake. As they reached the city limits he said, “Well?”

“Well what?”

“Does she ever find the man of her dreams?”

Ruthie’s left hand rested gently on Sy’s thigh. She could feel his hamstrings tighten with each step on the gas peddle. “I don’t know,” she said. “I haven’t finished it yet.” She smiled and squeezed Sy’s leg. “But I’ve found mine.”

Sy was flooded with relief by Ruthie’s re-assuring words. He had always helped raise the kids, cleaned and cooked at home and believed that women and men should be respected for their character not their gender. He was beginning to look forward to hearing this Hook’s lady.

The parking lot at Sophie’s Choice was full.

“I knew it,” Ruthie admonished. “Will have to park on the street.”

Sy found a spot a block away. They walked briskly to the entrance and to their surprise, saw two empty chairs in the far back. They made their way to the metal folding chairs, used their coats as cushions to sit on and caught their breath. Sy took in the crowd and noticed that only two other men were in attendance, re-confirming his enlightened attitude.

Their timing was impeccable. Just as they had taken their seats the introductions were completed and the author, to much applause and a few jubilant trills of sisterly welcome, stepped up to the podium.

Sy was mortified. Not only did Alice Hooks not look like the radical feminist he had envisioned, but she was not Alice Hooks. The woman he saw standing before the crowd, waiting respectfully for the applause to subside, was Alice Hawkins, the woman he’d been in love with in college.

“I can’t believe this,” he proclaimed, while his eyes remained riveted to the wet lips and long neck he had once kissed so passionately.

“She must have changed her name,” he whispered to Ruthie. “I knew her when she was Alice Hawkins.”

“Shhhh,” she replied.

Sy was eternally grateful that they were late and ended up in the back row. “I wonder if she would still recognize me?”He pondered. “I doubt it,” he answered himself. “I was nothing to her.”

As Alice began reading from her book Sy couldn’t push aside the gut feeling that her personal life and thus his own, was being laid bare for public consumption. He was undoubtedly one of the men she had based her story on.

“He raised his sweaty head from the pillow,” Alice read, “and practically spit in Refina’s face.” Alice glanced at the audience over the top of her designer glasses, then returned to the words on the page. “’You aren’t worth it,” he said coldly and turned away. You don’t understand.’

‘Understand what?’ she pleaded.

‘Me. You’ll never understand me.’

Rafina replied, ‘I understand you all to well.’

‘See!’ he yelled, with a trembling voice, as he got out from under the rumpled bedsheets and put on his bathrobe. ‘You’ve never liked me!’ He pouted, retreating to the bathroom. She slipped on her nightshirt and followed.

‘There’s no pleasing you,’ she said, standing in the doorway as he pissed away his anger. ‘Whatever I do isn’t enough. You always want me to be different.’

He shook off the last drops, tied his bathrobe and walked past her as if she were part of the door frame.

‘Lies,’ he whispered. ‘All lies.’ She watched him zip up his pants. ‘How often have I told you I love you?!’ he said accusingly.

‘Yeah,’ she agreed. ‘How often and when?’ He stopped tucking in his shirt and stared blankly. ‘Whenever I get physical, is when,’ she stated. ‘When I act like your sexual puppet, is when. Whenever I do things I don’t really want to do out of fear I’ll lose you. And you know what?’ He put on his watch and started towards the door. ‘I’m going to lose you anyway.’ She wiped her fingers on her nightshirt, as if she was trying to rub out the memory of his touch. ‘I don’t need that kind of love.’

‘See ya Refina,’ he said, turning. ‘I hope you enjoy being alone. You’re so damn controlling and manipulating nobody could ever put up with you.’

‘Don’t project your crap on me!’ she shouted, as the door careened open and he disappeared down the hall of the old city hotel.

Refina stared through the door at the empty hallway and concluded, ‘I’d rather screw myself then let that fool think he’s loving me.’”

***

After the reading Ruthie wanted to get her book autographed, but Sy lied and said, “It’s late honey. I’m a little tired.”

She looked at the long line and the clock, hesitated, then reluctantly agreed.

Sy deftly guided them towards the door, along the far side of the exuberant crowd that had cheered Ms. Hooks with a robust standing ovation.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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No Smiling On Thursdays

Excerpt from short story collection for children Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

No Smiling On Thursdays

Papa said, “No smiling on Thursdays!”

I kept my head buried in Mama’s shoulder. My tears were getting her shirt wet.

Papa asked Mama, “Isn’t today Thursday?”

Mama said, “Yep, Thursday all day.”

I looked at Papa, then at Mama and put my head back in Mama’s shirt. Papa got down on his knees, went behind Mama and peeked at me over her shoulder.

“No smiling on Thursdays!” he said smiling.

My sniffles stopped. My face felt happy. A big smile jumped on my lips.

“Hey!” Papa said, “This is Thursday! No smiling!”

A giggle ran out my mouth, then another and another. It was a giggle race. I couldn’t stop.

Mama and Papa both had pretend mean faces on and said, “Stop that! This is Thursday.” Then they smiled and laughed.

***

At school, my friend, Ben, ran up to the teacher crying. He put his arms around her leg and his face on her pants.

I went behind the teacher, looked between her legs at Ben and said, “This is Thursday.” He looked at me funny for a second, then put his head back on her leg. I said it again, “This is Thursday Ben. There’s no smiling allowed on Thursdays.”

Ben stopped crying. “What?” he asked.

“There’s no smiling on Thursdays,” I said again. He smiled and looked up at the teacher, who smiled back.

“Hey!” I said, just like Papa. “Stop smiling!”

Ben started laughing, let go of the teacher’s leg and tried to catch me.

“No smiling!” I shouted, as we both ran off to play.

***

At bedtime I heard Mama and Papa yelling. Papa came into my room to help with my pajamas. He looked sad.

Then Mama came in. She looked sad too.

After Papa buttoned the last button on my pajamas, I went behind him and said, “Don’t forget Papa. No smiling on Thursdays.”

He looked over his shoulder at me, then up at Mama and smiled.

“What?” he said. “Is this Thursday?”

“Yep!” I nodded back.

“You’re right!” said Mama. She smiled at Papa and kissed him on the cheek. She looked happy. “How could we forget?” she said.

Mama and Papa started tickling me all over.

“No smiling!” I said in between laughing, yelling and giggling. “It’s Thursday!”

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Bombs Away

Excerpt from biography Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest.

Fred Branfman emerged from the jungles of Laos carrying a heavy load. He wasn’t weighed down with ammunition, guns or rations. The international volunteer, who had been in and out of Laos for over three years, was burdened with something far greater than goods or a heavy backpack.

What he carried were photographs, drawings, documents and stories of the Laotian people and the devastation that had been inflicted upon them by United States bombs – bombs that officially didn’t exist; bombs that burned flesh and chopped off limbs; took the lives of mothers, children, elders and babies; bombs that destroyed homes, crops and entire villages; bombs that were intended for the communist Pathet Lao.

If was 1969, and the war in Vietnam was in full swing, though much of the fighting had been diverted from ground troops to killing by air. From 1968 through 1974, Laos had more ordnance, including cluster, fragmentation, Napalm, and 500 pound bombs – dropped on their lands and their people than did the Koreans, Europeans and Japanese during the entirety of the Korean War and World War II. The Pentagon estimated that they were dropping about six million pounds of bombs per day. Historically a gentle land of farmers, most Laotians had no idea what was happening or why America was trying to destroy them.

Few Americans had heard of the destruction taking place on The Plain of Jars and its 50,000 inhabitants, let alone that Laos and the U. S. government was intent on keeping it that way. U. S. reporters were not allowed on bombing runs into Laos and were restricted from speaking to military brass. Everything surrounding the raids was classified, but not all the people who witnessed or knew of the carnage could be silenced.

Fred Branfman carried pictures of people on the ground, the victims of impersonal high altitude air strikes authorized by U. S. Ambassador Godley and frequently directed by the CIA. He had close-ups of unexploded bombs bearing the symbol of the US; bombs dropped by American pilots who had never met a Laotian, let alone knew one. But Fred knew them personally; he had been to their homes, talked to the elders, and shared meals with families and communities. Fred was in bed, not with the military, but with the stories of the Laotian people. He was embedded with scenes and images he would rather not hold. He was embedded with unbearable atrocities that had been committed by his fellow Americans and was determined that the truth of these events not be buried with the Laotian people or minimized by U.S. propaganda that denied civilians were ever targeted.

Some Laotian Peace Corps friends of Fred’s told him about a young captain in the Air Force who was going to Washington to testify about the bombing of Laos to the Fulbright Foreign Relations Committee, the most powerful committee in the senate, chaired by Senator William Fulbright. They’d said this captain was a physician at the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base In Northeast Thailand, just over the Laotian border. The base was a hub for the US and CIA aircraft that were bombing the very people he held so dear. This officer had put out the word, through his civilian friends and employees of Air America (a front for the CIA), that he was looking for informational ammo about the situation in Laos.

How this captain had been so blatant about his mission and survived being thrown out of the Air Force was beyond Fred’s comprehension. He was just glad there was somebody sane enough to listen, someone who might be able to help stop the madness.

In late fall of 1969, Fred Branfman met Capt. Arnie Leff, MD, USAF, at The Bungalow, a counter-culture way station for off-duty military and civilians traveling throughout Southeast Asia. He entrusted all his papers, files, interviews and photographs about the bombing of Laos to Dr. Leff, a passionate Jewish-American kid from Brooklyn who had the guts, chutzpah, or naivete to stand up to the U. S. military and political regime and say, “This is wrong. This isn’t the America I believe in.”

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The Sweetest Man – Part 3

Excerpt from short story book Saint Catherine’s Baby.

The Sweetest Man (Part 3 – Conclusion)

Mr. Johnson and Ms. King, who now referred to one another as Joshua and Leslie, met the next day and the day after that. With Mrs. Johnson’s insistence, Joshua started seeing Leslie in the evenings as well, usually at Leslie’s home for dinner. When Leslie could arrange a babysitter, even though Sevon insisted he could stay by himself, “I’m TEN Mom!” they would go out to a movie, dinner or a walk around town.

It wasn’t long until mouths’ were talking and tongues’ a wagging at school.

“You Wiley Coyote you,” Maria exclaimed one afternoon to Leslie. “All this time. Not one look and here you come. Pow! He practically falls over himself chasing after you.”

Eloise laughed. Leslie chided. “Come on. It’s not like that. We’re just good friends.”

“Friends?!” Maria almost shouted. “Just friends my foot. You think we’re blind? We don’t see the way you talk?”

Leslie rolled her eyes, but didn’t deny the accusation as she walked away, leaving Maria and Eloise grinning, both genuinely happy for their new found friend, the “mother of Sevon.”

***

“Can we go to your place tonight?” Leslie asked sweetly, as she and Joshua left the Thai Kitchen, which had become their favorite dining spot.

“Well . . . I don’t know.” Joshua hesitated. “Don’t you think we should get back home? Ginny probably needs to leave soon.”

Ginny was the babysitter Eloise had found for Leslie. A freshman at the community college, she and Sevon had made a great connection. She didn’t treat him like a little kid and when he discovered that she had played soccer throughout high school and was on the college team, it was admiration at first goal.

“It’s only six-thirty,” Leslie replied. “She doesn’t have to leave until nine.”

“Oh yeah,” Joshua said, already knowing that was the case, but stalling, not sure what to say.

“Sure, sometime soon,” he said, giving her a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. “Let’s go see that new flick by Spike Lee.”

“Soon, soon, soon,” she frowned. “You always say that.” She looked at the wet pavement as they walked, water still streaming down the gutters from the downpour an hour earlier.

“Are you hiding something?” she inquired.

“Hiding something, from you?” He looked hurt.

“You’ve never invited me to your house,” she said. As he lifted his arm off her shoulder, she stopped walking, braced herself and took a risk. “You got another woman at home?”

Joshua rolled his head and looked up at the dark sky. He hadn’t told her about his mother. He was afraid she’d think he was a loser, “a coward,” his previous lady friends had said or implied, because he still lived at home.

“Oh my God!” Leslie gasped. “How could you?!”

The expression of anguish on her face almost killed him. She abruptly turned and started to run. He ran after her and grabbed her long coat by the sleeve.

“No! No!” he panted. “It’s not like that.” He could tell she didn’t believe him, but she had at least stopped to listen. “Yes, I live with another woman . . .”

She raised her hand to slap him, restrained herself and turned to flee, but he wouldn’t let go and turned her around. “It’s my mother!” he shouted.

Leslie’s mouth dropped open. She stared at Joshua, flabbergasted. “Your mother?!”

He nodded, waiting to hear a litany of judgment, deprecation and farewells.

“Why?” was all she said. She took Joshua’s hands and held them in her warm gloves. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Joshua had tried to avoid this moment at all costs. How could he explain that he’s the last and only family member living that can care for his mom? How could he tell her that he’d promised to never put her in a home with strangers? How could he tell her he owed his mom the world; that she was the only one who stuck by him when he returned from Viet Nam addicted to heroin; the only one waiting when he got out of jail for robbery; the only one that called and visited every week during his rehab? Every other woman he’d known had left him for someone successful, someone who wasn’t such a “Mama’s boy.” How could he tell her all that?

“I was afraid,” was all he could manage. “I was afraid you’d leave.”

“Leave?” she said pulling him close. “You’re the sweetest thing I’ve ever known.”

She wrapped her leather coat around them both; re-heating the bond that had been temporarily frozen, extinguishing the fear that had drained the blood from their bodies.

“When can I meet her?” she whispered, after gently kissing his soft cheeks. “Tonight?”

“No. She’d be livid if we showed up unannounced. She’ll want to make a big to do about it.” He smiled sadly, returning Leslie’s kiss with one of his own on her wet lips.

“Oh. I hope she won’t go to all that trouble.”

“She won’t,” he corrected. “She can’t be on her feet long. It’ll be me who does the actual cooking. She’ll be the general in charge, ordering me to do this and that.”

“I hope she likes me.”

“Like you?” Joshua’s replied. “How could she not like you?”

His gut tightened into a knot, knowing that his mother had always found some fault or perceived character defect with his lady friends.

***

Leslie and Sevon closed the doors to the Camry and walked across the street. They opened the gate of the chain link fence to the old brownstone and headed towards the front porch.

“You be on your best behavior, you hear,” Leslie reminded Sevon. “This is very important for Mr. Johnson and me.”

Sevon nodded for the hundredth time. “How old is his mom? I bet she’s ancient.”

“Sevon!” Leslie sighed. “She’s not ancient, just older.”

“How old?” Sevon asked, as they stepped on the creaky steps.

“Shhhhh!” Leslie cautioned. “I don’t know.”

***

“Don’t forget the crystal wine glasses!” Alberta Johnson shouted from the living room.

“I didn’t!” Joshua yelled out from the kitchen, were he was nervously watching the clock. The table was immaculately set with silver utensils, which had been passed down from his great-grandmother. Bright red roses splayed out from a vase in the center of the white lace cloth, which blessedly covered most of the gaudy Formica top.

When he returned to the living room to help his mother out of her chair, the doorbell rang. He turned back towards the kitchen, wondering if he should get his mother up first or answer the door.

As he hesitated, looking at the front door then at his mother, Mrs. Johnson yelled, “What are you standing there for? Hurry up before they run off already.” He started coming towards her. “Go get the door you fool,” she snapped. “I can make it on my own.”

He watched her rise, with great effort, using her cane to steady herself, as he hurried to the front door.

“Come in. Come in.” He ushered Leslie and Sevon into the entrance way. “Who are you two fine looking people?” he kidded.

Leslie kissed him on the cheek. evon nodded a perfunctory hello.”

“Where’s you’re Mom?” Leslie asked, noticing the beautifully laid out table setting.

“I’m right here,” Mrs. Johnson replied, huffing and puffing her way into the kitchen.

Leslie, taken aback by how bent over and breathless Mrs. Johnson was, stood and stared. Catching herself, before it was noticed, she went up to the matriarch; shook her hand and said, “What a pleasure to meet you.” Turning towards her son, who looked like he’d just seen someone raised from the dead, Leslie twitched her head to indicate he should move closer. “And this is my son Sevon.”

Sevon bowed, reluctantly took the outstretched wrinkled hand and said, “Nice to meet you Mrs. Johnson.”

Mrs. Johnson laughed. “Now, aren’t you the little prince?” Sevon backed up closer to his mother. “You keep that up and the girls will be all over you.”

Looking a little sick at the thought of girls being “all over” him, Sevon nodded politely and decided then and there to keep his distance from the old lady.

“Please,” Joshua motioned towards the table. “Dinner is just about ready.”

Leslie pulled out a chair for Mrs. Johnson, who was so focused on landing gracefully in front of company, that she didn’t bother to say thank you. Sevon sat as straight as he could, like his mother had instructed, at the opposite end.

Leslie sat down next to Mrs. Johnson, put on her napkin and complimented their hosts. “This is beautiful.” She smelled the roses, then picked up a silver knife. “And these are exquisite. Where did you get them?”

Joshua put a plate full of steaming hot lasagna in front of his mother, who replied, “They’re from my grandmother. They were a wedding gift from the woman she worked for.”

“What company did your grandma work for?” Leslie asked, grateful to have something for conversation.

“Company?” Mrs. Johnson stared hard at Leslie. “Where are you from?”

“What?” Leslie said, as Joshua placed dinner before her, smiling lovingly, not having heard their interaction.

“She was a cook, a cleaner,” Mrs. Johnson continued sternly. “She was a slave.”

“Why yes, of course,” Leslie acknowledged, feeling like she’d just slipped and fallen into a mud puddle. “I meant . . . I was just wondering …”

“What company?” Mrs. Johnson muttered, shaking her head, wondering how her son could find someone who had no sense of history, no understanding of what they’d been through, of who they were.

Joshua put a big helping of Lasagna in front of Sevon and a large portion at his own seat, then placed a bottle of wine and one of apple cider next to the roses. He sat down across from Leslie, between his mother and Sevon. After putting on his napkin, he glanced over at Leslie. His smile disappeared when he saw her look of confusion. Without wasting a second he looked at his Mom for an explanation, but received none.

Leslie watched Mrs. Johnson and Joshua bow their heads to pray and did likewise. Sevon, not being brought up in a religious household, reached for his fork and took a mouthful of lasagna before his mother could stop him.

Alberta Johnson shot an inquisitional look at Sevon, then his mother. “Sevon!” Leslie admonished. “What on earth are you doing?” Sevon was at a loss. His Mom nodded frantically at Joshua and Mrs. Johnson’s bowed heads.

Sevon put down his fork, whispered “sorry” and bowed his head.

The rest of the evening was civil, but no matter what Leslie said or did, she couldn’t erase the mortal sins Mrs. Johnson insinuated they had committed at the dinner table.

“That woman,” Mrs. Johnson gasped, after their guests had left. Joshua helped her back into her “Big Daddy” chair and raised the footrest. “That woman doesn’t deserve you.” She looked at the picture of her dead husband on the bookshelf, realizing once again how much she depended on her only son. “She’s got no religion.” She took a few skeletal wheezes. “A kid with no manners. And . . . worst of all . . . she doesn’t even know she’s black.” Joshua remained silent, as his mother gargled on. “Did you see her hair?!”

***

Driving home, in her new luxury Toyota, Leslie knew she couldn’t blame Sevon, who had never said grace in his life and she couldn’t take back her naive question about Mrs. Johnson’s grandmother.
“How on earth,” she told herself, “was I supposed to know? I’m not a mind reader.” As they drove on she became more incensed and less self-effacing. “What century does she live in? she told herself. “Praying never got us anywhere!”

Two minutes later she found herself arguing for understanding and patience. “So, she finds it comforting. Who am I to say what works best for the old lady?”

***

Joshua finished up the last of the dishes, got his mother’s night time medications and brought them, with some water, into the living room.

“Here you go Mom.”

“Thanks son.” She plopped the handful into her mouth, took a big swig and swallowed them all at once, coughing a few times to clear her throat.

After making sure they’d all gone down OK, he said, “I’m going to go read a while.”

When Joshua came out of his room, about twenty minutes later, his mother said, with a slight slur, “I, I think I’ll go . . . my prayers and . . . to bed. I’m pppretty tired all of a sudden.”

He helped her rise. She leaned on him hard and dragged her cane behind her. Her shuffling was worse than usual as they entered the bedroom. He sat her on the side of the bed and pulled back the hand-knitted bedspread. Gently removing her shoes, he laid her down and pulled the covers over her shoulders.

“Thanks sweetheart.” They kissed each other goodnight. “You’re sssuch a swweet, sweet boy. What . . . what would I . . . I ever do . . . without you?”

Joshua turned off the light, closed the door and went to the bathroom. He took the few remaining barbiturates he’d switched with his mother’s medications and flushed them down the toilet. As he watched them disappear, he realized he had been so taken with Leslie King, that he’d forgotten to find out the name of that cute little girl with pigtails that he’d seen on the playground several months ago and promised himself he’d find out first thing in the morning.

THE END

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The Sweetest Man – Part 2

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

The Sweetest Man (Part 2)

“If he wasn’t a married man, I’d have honed in on that honey years ago.” Marina whispered to the mothers.

“Married?” Eloise exclaimed. “I don’t know if he’s married or not.”

“Really?” Marina replied. “I always assumed . . . he never even looks at me.”

“Just because a man doesn’t look at you Marina, doesn’t mean he’s hitched,” Eloise chided.

Marina good-naturally pushed Eloise on the shoulder.

“Just because he’s not married,” Linda broke in, “doesn’t mean he’s worth your time. After all,” she scoffed, “look what he does for a living. He’s not going very far.”

“I don’t care if he was washing dishes or the president of IBM,” replied Marina. “If there was more like him in this world, we’d all be better off.”

“It matters,” Linda insisted. “And you know it.”

They all nodded, agreeing with both Linda and Marina.

Leslie bid farewell and went out to the basketball court to get Sevon. By the time they got to her new car she had forgotten all about Joshua Johnson.

***

After putting the old three-speed bike away in the garage, the one he rode to work for the last twenty-three years, Joshua entered the house by the back entrance. The weathered screen door squeaked and slammed shut behind him.

“Hey Mom, I’m home,” he shouted, as he hung up his lightweight windbreaker and walked through the kitchen. On the scratched cutting board, by the sink, were some carrots and potatoes; half of which had been sliced; the other half lay silently by themselves, waiting for someone to rescue them from their wilting future.

“Mom,” Joshua said, a little more urgently. “Mom! You OK.”

“I’m just fine.” He heard her reply from the living room. “Stop your fussing.”

Joshua saw his mother, Alberta Johnson, sitting in her favorite “Big Daddy” chair, as she always liked to call the worn and tattered green suede recliner. Her feet were raised on the chair’s movable leg rest.

“Started dinner,” she explained, “but couldn’t get my breath. Had to sit a spell.”

She took in a few quick gasps that sounded like someone taking a drag on a water pipe.

“Mama,” Joshua scolded. “You leave that to me. I don’t mind cooking when I get home. It sort of relaxes me.”

“After you been out working your buns off all day?” his Mom shot back. “I’ll have no part of that.”

“You know what the doctor said,” Joshua replied. “You’ve got to pace yourself, stay off your feet.” He went back into the kitchen and kept talking. “That congestive heart stuff isn’t something to play around with.”

Alberta almost spit, as she hollered after him. “If the good Lord had wanted me to sit on my behind all day, he wouldn’t give me the legs or the gumption to use ‘em.”

Joshua returned and handed her a glass of water and some pills. “And if you don’t stop hovering over me,” she frowned, then winced, as she swallowed the pills. “I’m going to die from being babied to death!”

Joshua smiled, took the glass back in the kitchen, returned to the living room, sat on the matching green sofa and propped his feet up on the coffee table.

“How goes it with the rest of the world?” his Mom asked earnestly.

“Couple new kids today,” he replied, as he picked up the daily paper and began scanning the headlines. “One of the cutest little girls you’ve ever seen.”

“And the other?” she nodded, having expected him to tell her without her having to ask.

“Well,” he said slowly and lowered the paper to see her inquisitive eyes over the top. “The other’s name is Sevon. Nice looking kid.” He paused for effect, then said dreamily, “and his mother . . . man, was she something else.” He shook his head with pleasure, remembering the way she looked at him from behind, after they’d met and parted. He put the paper in front of his face once again, to hide the enormous smile from his mother.

“Put that thing down!” she insisted, pointing at the paper. Joshua folded the daily news neatly and placed it on the table by his feet. “Now, are you going to tell me more or do I have to beat it out of you?” she said, raising the cane she used for walking, like some menacing spear.

Joshua chuckled. He knew she enjoyed the banter and played it out as long as possible. She got pretty lonely during the days and loved a little intrigue. He wished he could afford to stay home and keep her company, but it was financially impossible. She had always been self-sufficient and independent, but since his dad had died from lung cancer in 1986, she’d been quite lonesome. It wasn’t long after his death before she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and that was on top of her already existing arthritis and high blood pressure.

“Her name is Leslie,” he recalled. “Real nice. Real nice indeed.”

“Well?” his Mom said, almost coming unglued.

“Well what?” Joshua teased. He knew what was coming.

“Well?” she said sharply. “Did you ask her out, talk a little, make a move?”

“Make a move?” Joshua laughed. “Where do you come up with this stuff, TV?”

“For God’s sake Son,” his Mom exclaimed. “You said she was pretty. You said she was ‘something’.” She shook her head. Do I have to spell it out for you? Have you forgotten your single and a man? A good looking one, if I may boast,” she said proudly.

“Mother,” Joshua replied with a hint of irritation, as he got up to head back to the kitchen to finish dinner. “She’s probably married.”

“Are you sure?” she asked as he bent over and gave her a kiss.

“I don’t know,” he said standing, turning to leave. “She seemed pretty high class.” He walked towards the kitchen and muttered. “What would she ever see in a janitor?”

“Come back here!” Mrs. Johnson demanded, as she thumped her cane on the floor like a gavel.

Joshua turned and waited for the inevitable motherly pep talk, realizing he should have kept his thoughts to himself.

“You do honorable work for an honorable daily wage,” his mother instructed. “You help keep a clean place for God’s children to learn.” He lowered his head. “Look at me when I’m speaking!” He looked up quickly. “And to top it off, you’re an intelligent and kind man.” Joshua listened, knowing what she said was true, but also understanding how a man was measured. “Anybody says otherwise, is either a fool or blind,” she concluded.

“Yes Mom. love you too,” he assured her, then turned and headed towards the counter to finish cutting the vegetables that had been waiting so patiently for his arrival.

***

Without making it to obvious, Joshua made a point of taking out the cafeteria garbage at the same time the following day in hopes of at least seeing, if not talking too, Mrs. King. Discreetly, he looked up and down the hallway when the bell rang and saw hundreds of students, parents and teachers, but no Leslie King.

“Forget it,” he said to himself, carrying the can on the pushcart to the garbage bin. “What was I thinking?”

As he was about to re-enter the building, the door flew open and hit the metal can in his hands. It was Sevon.

He looked at Joshua briefly, muttered, “Oh. Sorry.” Then ran down the path towards the parking lot.

Mrs. King followed close behind yelling, “Sevon! Wait up!”

She almost walked right past Joshua, who stood silently behind the open door, then felt his presence and turned.

“Mr. Johnson?”

“Good day Mrs. King,” he nodded, unable to keep his pleasure at her acknowledgment under wraps. “And how are you and your son today?”

“Quite fine, thank you,” she replied; glancing once more down the path to make sure Sevon was safe. Turning to face Joshua directly, she asked, “And you, Mr. Johnson, how goes it for you?”

“Much better,” he said, looking down at the ground shyly.

“Much better?” she questioned.

“Much better, having seen you today,” he blurted boldly and looked her square in the face.

Now it was Leslie’s turn to look away, suddenly at a rare loss of words.

If someone had been watching this encounter from afar, they would have thought these two adults were acting like young teens experiencing a crush for the first time.

“Mr. Johnson, please,” she rebuffed.

“Mr. King’s a lucky man,” he offered. “Yes indeed.”

“There is no Mr. King, Mr. Johnson.”

“Please, call me Joshua.”

“Leslie,” she said, matching his dismissal of formalities. “King’s my maiden name. Sevon’s father is Albert Wilson.”

Joshua could hardly contain his ecstasy, but all the world and Leslie saw, was a slight nod of acknowledgment.

“And you Mr., I mean Joshua,” she wondered out loud. “Surely a man such as yourself is happily married, I presume?”

Joshua saw Sevon walking quickly towards them. “Married?” he answered. “I’m afraid not.”

“But Eloise Jacobs said . . .,” she started to blurt out, but was saved by Sevon.

“Mom! Come on!”

“Sevon,” she said sternly. “Don’t interrupt when people are talking! You hear me?” She looked in Joshua’s direction.

“Sorry,” Sevon said quietly. Joshua acknowledged the boy’s apology with a grin.

“Mothers,” Joshua said, shaking his head and smiling understandingly at Sevon. “They can be such a pain.”

Sevon stared blankly, having no idea that Mr. Johnson was joking, then grabbed his mother’s sleeve. “Come on! The game starts at four o’clock on channel eight!”

“Soccer,” Leslie explained, as she was being ushered away by her increasingly excited son. “He’s become a fanatic. Talked me into getting cable so he could watch every week.”

Joshua didn’t budge. His heart was beating like a time bomb.

“Let’s talk tomorrow,” Leslie hollered, walking half backwards, as she and Sevon made their way to the parking lot.

He remembered nodding and grinning stupidly as they left; feeling like everything was in slow motion until Mr. Duncan, the principal, opened the door to leave.

“Good night Mr. Johnson,” he said, taking a double look at the school custodian, who was frozen, with an empty garbage can in hand, looking towards the parking lot. “You OK Mr. Johnson?”

Joshua shook his head, like shaking off a vision, when he realized Mr. Duncan was addressing him. “Oh yes. I’m great, thank you,” he replied and opened the door to take in the can. “It’s a beautiful afternoon, isn’t it Mr. Duncan?” he said, looking up.

The principal looked at the cloudy gray skies and back at Joshua. If you say so.”

“See ya tomorrow,” Joshua closed the door and stepped lightly; pushing the empty trash can down the hallway; whistling an improvised tune all his own.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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The Sweetest Man – Part 1

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

Joshua Johnson stopped hauling the garbage can towards the bins and watched the Kindergarten children laughing, jumping and skipping on the playground.

“What a sweetie,” he thought, looking at a child with ribbon tied pigtails flopping on the side of her head like rabbit ears, as she ran playing freeze tag with another girl. “She’s just too cute.” He smiled to himself, picked up the can of discarded lunch plates and food and walked without haste towards the trash receptacle.

Joshua and smiles went together like popcorn and warm butter. He was one of those folks that could drive you nuts with his pleasant disposition. It could be the coldest, wettest, dreariest day of the year and he’d find something nice about it.

Just as you ran into the hallway, pulling your child in out of the storm, drenched and shivering, he’d walk by and say, “Good morning.” If you looked at him frowning, wondering what was good about it, he’d nod out the window and add, “Sure is a God- send for the trees.” As you forced a crooked smile, he’d be off, whistling some cheerful tune that sounded familiar, but he’d made to be quite his own.

Mr. Johnson, who was fairly good looking at fifty-one years of age, with short, curly gray-black hair, skin like rich dark earth and a prominent dimpled chin, had a gift for remembering names. He knew almost every child in the school. On his way to dumping the trash, Joshua realized he didn’t know the name of the little girl he’d seen playing tag and resolved to find out first thing in the morning.

***

As the bell rang, announcing the end of the school day, Leslie King made her way through the swarming hallways and met her son, Sevon, outside his fifth grade classroom.

It was only the second week of school and she and Sevon had hastily moved to the area a month ago. Though she’d known about the move ahead of time and prepared all summer, it had taken them much longer than she’d anticipated to find a decent place to live and a school district she found acceptable. It had just been their luck to move to an area of the country that had one of the highest costs of living and the lowest vacancy rates.

As a marketing manager for a major software company, she was required to relocate when needed. She was fine with the traveling, but didn’t like the impact it had on Sevon. She’d decided that this would be their last move. She was already looking into starting her own consulting firm and had some good leads on a few venture capitalists who might be interested.

Her mother, a professor of literature at the University of Texas in Austin, said she’d pitch in a couple grand if she needed it. She’d been able to keep her head when her mother had offered and simply said, “Thanks Mom. I’ll let you know.”

Yeah, her mother would give her some dough alright, but she’d have to pay some painful penance, hearing about how she was an idiot for dropping out of graduate school in her final year. And knowing herself, as she did, she knew that that sickening childhood shame, of never being good enough in her mother’s eyes, would once again creep under the door of her watchful radar and infect the healthy self-esteem she’d struggled to develop and protect.

Since Sevon’s father had left, over four years ago, Leslie had been too busy simply surviving to concern herself much with dating or meeting anyone new. he’d gone out a few times, usually with executives or colleagues, but found them to be conceited or consumed with accumulating material goods. She didn’t see herself as knocking guys out with her looks, but knew that for someone thirty-seven years old, she could easily strike a pose with her high chestnut cheekbones, accentuate her firm hips and legs and still turn some heads.

A few years ago she’d straightened her kinky black hair and had liked it so much she’d continued to torture herself with the weekly process to keep it that way, though it had now become more habit than enhancement.

She didn’t really care about how she looked anymore, just enough to keep appearances and have Sevon be proud of his mom. He was all that mattered. Any men in her life were a sideshow, at best a momentary pleasure, at worst a nuisance.

“Hey little man,” she said, carefully restraining herself from giving him a big luscious hug, knowing that would embarrass him beyond comprehension in front of his classmates. “How goes it?”

“OK,” he replied, smiling.

As they walked towards the exit, Leslie bent down slightly and whispered, “I missed you today.”

Sevon glanced up, frowned and looked around quickly to make sure nobody had heard her. “Mom!” he hissed.

He’d grown so much in the last two years that he came up to his mother’s chest.

“It won’t be long until you’re a big man and I’ll be looking up at you,” she would tell him fondly, when they were in the privacy of their own home. He would try to act like he didn’t hear her, but she could see his pride burst like fresh seeds from a pod and would have had to take sandpaper to wipe the grin off his face.

One of two women, standing in front of the school office, talking loudly, glanced at Leslie as she and Sevon started to walk by. The woman, wearing shorts and a bright yellow-orange jogging sweater, stopped mid-sentence and said, “Hello. I’m Eloise, Eloise Jacobs. Alex’s mom.”

Leslie stopped, shook Eloise’s pinkish-white outstretched hand and wondered if she was supposed to know this woman.

“Our sons’ are in the same class with Mrs. Rios,” she explained. “Your son’s name is Devon or Givon . . . I’m sorry I don’t remember.”

Leslie turned to her son. “This is Sevon,” she pronounced clearly, accentuating the short e.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Eloise exclaimed, reaching out her hand to Sevon. “Glad to meet you.”

Sevon shook hands quickly and he and Alex, who had just appeared, both scurried down the hall.

Leslie called, with a little anxiety in her voice, “Where are you going?”

Sevon yelled, “We’ll be outside Mom, by the basketball court.”

Before Leslie could say another word Eloise started talking. “Alex has gone here all his life. It’s a great school. Sure, there’s a few teachers that are so so, but most of them are good. And the parents really help out.”

Leslie noticed the other woman Eloise had been talking to start to leave, as did Eloise.

“I’m sorry,” Eloise said quickly, grabbing the other woman by the sleeve. “This is Linda Chang. Her daughter’s in the other fifth grade class. She helps out with the tutoring program in the library.”

Linda shook Leslie’s hand. “Is this your son’s first year?” she asked, a solid silver necklace around her throat and an aqua blue suit adorning her medium frame. “I don’t remember seeing him before.”

“Yes,” Leslie said hesitantly, still looking for Sevon out the window. She saw him playing with Alex, relaxed a little and turned back towards Linda. “We just moved here last month. Is it always so hard to find a place?”

Both women gave knowing nods.

“Where were you living before Mrs. um . . .?” Eloise inquired. “You do have a name besides Sevon’s Mom I presume.” All three women smiled, understanding how they often were referred to as someone’s mother instead of by their own names.

“It’s Ms. King, but please call me Leslie,” she replied. “We were living on the East Coast until I got transferred.”

“Transferred?” Linda inquired. “What do you do?”

“Well,” Leslie explained, “I have been working as a marketing consultant but I’m looking into . . .”

“Hey! What’s up?” yelled a short woman with long braided hair, high heels and bright red lipstick. A little girl that looked like her miniature was pulling her by the hand.

“Go play with Stacey,” she told the little girl. “She’s right out there.” She pointed to the playground. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

The little girl looked outside and took off running.

“Don’t run in the hallway!” the woman said and joined Eloise, Linda and Leslie.

“She’s such a doll,” Eloise told the woman.

“Yeah,” the lady replied, “a wind-up doll that never stops.”

They all laughed.

Eloise made the introduction. “Mrs. King, I mean Leslie or better known as Sevon’s Mom.” They all chuckled. “This is Marina. Marina Higuera.” They shook hands.

“Marina is the queen of the PTA,” Eloise continued.

“And about everything else,” Linda said satirically.

Marina lifted her chin and sauntered a few steps.

“It’s a good thing our husbands don’t attend PTA meetings,” Eloise smirked, “or Marina would have hijacked them all.”

They all laughed, as Marina batted her eyelashes playfully.

“Welcome,” Marina said sincerely.

“Thanks,” Leslie exclaimed.

Joshua entered the hallway, pushing the empty garbage can on a handcart and walked past the front desk whistling. He was reminding himself to find out the name of the new kid he just saw playing outside with Alex Jacobs.

Leslie, in the midst of explaining once again what she did for a living, stopped mid-sentence and watched the handsome, seemingly distracted older gentleman walk past whistling. The other women saw her eyes wander.

Suddenly, Marina called out, “Hey! Mr. Johnson!”

Joshua tipped the handcart forward, so it stood by itself and turned around to see Eloise Jacobs, Linda Chang, Marina Higuera and a lovely woman he didn’t know. With his easy, “I’ve got all morning” attitude, he walked over and nodded hello.

“Good afternoon,” he said, trying to keep from staring at Leslie. “Beautiful day out today, isn’t it?”

“Yes, indeed,” Marina exclaimed, and without much hesitation introduced Leslie.

“Pleasure to meet you Ma’m,” he said with pleasure, unable to hide his admiration.

Leslie shook his hand gently and felt a warm strength returned.

Nodding his head towards the basketball court he said, “And that must be your boy out there?”

“Yes.” She smiled. “Sevon.”

“Well well,” he said, not sure what else to say with all the ladies staring at him. “I ah, better get back to work.” He nodded over at the can in the middle of the hallway. “I can’t leave that standing there now, can I?”

“Take care Mr..Johnson,” Marina cooed.

“You all have a good night now,” he replied.

As he turned, he flashed a quick smile towards Leslie, but not enough for anyone to notice. He started whistling as he walked away from the desk and through the door to the cafeteria.

“Now wasn’t she something,” he told himself, as he replaced the trash can and put in a new liner. “Whoever she’s fixed up with is one lucky man.”

It had been a couple of years since Joshua had even considered getting involved with another woman. He enjoyed their company and was just as drawn to the opposite sex as most men, but things never really worked out and he’d decided it was better to leave things alone, considering his circumstances at home and all.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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