“I was looking decent, but nothing fancy and certainly not sexy! I was going to the grocery store! I mean, I had shorts on, but not short shorts. I had on that little tee-shirt top, you know, the pale yellow with the little loop stitching on the edges? Nice, but not exactly an attention getter. Well I see a group of construction workers working on a building up ahead, so I just look straight ahead, no eye contact, nothing to lead them on. So when I get up close every single one of them goes presidential on me. I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to tell them a thing or two but that would just encourage them so I kept my eyes straight ahead and kept walking. What’s this world coming too?”
The ground was covered in black and white, bright sun and dark shadow, odd angles, lines crossing and re-crossing, he stood with his arms around her thin waist, his hands clasped behind her back. He swayed slightly right and then slightly left his feet barely sliding from side to side in the soft dirt while the music played in his head. She stood perfectly still, her arms to her side, her long dress reaching the ground, her hair trying to find its way to the sky. Keeping one arm around her waist he reached the other to the back of her neck and pulled himself closer to her. Remembered the effort in the curve of her chin, the tiny chips removed to form the eyes that looked but did not see. He reached into the branches that protruded from her misshapen head but refused to think of her as a tree. He said her name softly into her wooden ear, gently, tenderly, believing she could know. They stood in the half darkness until the slant of the shadows changed and the light began to dim. He told her he needed to go. They had one last dance. He kissed her lightly on her cheek and then made his way back to his dwelling. The sun became an orange ball floating just above the earth as he entered through the back porch door of his childhood home. He lay on top of the blankets that covered the mattress on the kitchen floor. The quiet filled every inch of space making the air hard to pull into him self. When darkness came he closed his eyes but sleep stayed away. His mind filled with people. People he had loved that were no more. People singing, and dancing, and laughing, and playing, he felt a trickle of moisture as it tickled along the side of his nose. And then sleep took him and he found rest for another day.
“Push harder, you’ll feel a click!” I see the lever as it locks in even without needing to have my hand on it. I think I even heard an actual click but it might have been my imagination.
She takes her hand away and we maintain a constant speed. “I know!” she looks pleased with herself and settles back into the plush captain’s chair, relaxing for the first time since we left port. She relaxes for just a second and then starts fiddling with the onboard computer.
“Take a break. Enjoy the flight,” I reach over and give her a pat on the head. “You’re doing fine.”
“I just wanted to double check my calculations before we leave the solar system,” she continues to punch at her tablet, her forehead showing a slight wrinkle above the top of her nose.
I let her finish. When she looks up I ask, “Well?”
“They’re right,” she smiles; she knows I knew they would be.
“Fifteen minutes?” I ask.
She looks back at her tablet and over at the ship’s console, “fourteen minutes, fifteen seconds…mark.” Giving me a little more precise information than I would ever need. She has worked hard preparing for this trip and some pride shows through the nervousness of her first real flight.
“It’s exactly like the simulations on Earth,” I say for the thirty-fifth time.
“But we are really out here,” she waves her arms to indicate all of space.
“It’s exactly the same. The controls, the computer, the view screen are even the same brand the simulation uses. The only way we could tell for sure we are in outer space would be to open the port and be sucked out,” I point at the portal on the curved gray metal sidewall.
“I know, I can feel the emptiness pulling at the walls,” she expresses pure joy with none of the fear I had on my first fight. Of course on my first fight there were still things to fear. I look around at the state of the art spacecraft that really flies itself. “When I was a kid…” I start but she breaks in.
“I know you had to peddle really fast to make your rocket ship go!” It’s not what I was going to say but it’s close.
“Well, this is a nice ship,” I answer.
“And you are a very nice father to provide it,” she smiles a little bigger than would be natural but she’s sincere.
“I wasn’t fishing, but thank-you.”
“It’ll be nice to be able to come home weekends.”
“And you won’t have to depend on any ugly boys to get around,” I say sternly.
“You don’t need to worry about me, all I will do is study, study, study.” I’d feel better if she hadn’t dotted her sentence with a wink.
“Hyper space in: four, three, two, one,” the ship slips into hyper drive and we leave the sol system far behind.
The first sign of trouble in Toby’s life came at the age of twelve. He was attending a very well respected middle school at the time. The school had all the extras needed to guide young minds. The school had a very successful athletics department, the football team not only possessed shiny new uniforms but almost every year won at least one playoff game. The school had an arts program that sent students traveling in buses all over the county and sometimes even to other parts of the state for special events. The school, and this was the part Toby enjoyed even though he did show some signs of trouble in his life, had a very adept chef and produced lunches that were as good as anywhere, at least anywhere that had to present one thousand two hundred lunches to crazy children in less than twenty minutes. But with every advantage Toby still felt out of place attending this fine school. He complained to his parents once, during a slightly heated discussion with primarily his father, he was heard to remark, “I didn’t ask to be born.” Toby tried to share his problems with his friends at school, of which he had several, but they each felt their problems should be attended to and did not spend as much of their time felling sorry for Toby as he felt would be right. As luck would have it a couple of years passed and at the age of fourteen Toby decided maybe life was not so bad after all and he found a comfortable place in a very respectable high school not a long walk from his very respectable home.
High school presented another chance for failure. High school introduced Toby to women. Toby had always had good eyesight and the opposite sex had always been around but in high school Toby discovered they held an attraction he had not delved into before. Toby discovered women: when bumped up against not only did they not smell like boys, they did not feel like boys, or smile like boys, and they certainly did not giggle like boys. Toby discovered that his reaction to women was totally different than the way he reacted to others of his own sex, and he discovered he especially enjoyed the difference. Toby did not go mad with this new information. He did not become some sort of sex crazed manic. He took it in stride and in most cases he kept this new knowledge very much to himself. But there was one exception. The exception was named Jill. From the first time Toby saw Jill in the hallway having trouble with the combination to her book locker he knew she needed his attention. She was just a silly, giggly, girl. She looked a lot like Toby’s mother had at his age but Toby did not take the time to realize this, he did not think about much other then how pretty she was and about how her blue eyes sparkled when she laughed and about how much he would like to be near her. And so he waited for an opportunity, not like a lion waits for its prey, not with confidence and a well laid out plan. Toby waited for an opportunity to meet Jill with fear and insecurity.
After what seemed much longer than a few days he found his chance, “before you pull down the handle you need to jiggle it like this,” Toby jiggled the sliding latch on Jill’s locker and pulled it down, just like he had been doing with his own locker since the school year had begun.
Jill smiled at him and said, “Thanks.” Toby felt his heart melt. “You’re Toby. Right?” Toby’s throat went dry and he produced an expression on his face that Jill could not discern. “You’re in my Spanish class.”
“Oh,” it wasn’t much of a sentence but it did prove Toby was capable of speech.
“Thank you for your help. I will try that jiggle trick next time I need in my locker,” Jill said with another melt your heart smile.
“I could just wait here and help you,” said Toby, finding his words and even sounding a little smooth.
“Silly,” she giggled. And then the bell rang giving Toby one of the best ideas he had ever had.
“Could I walk with you to Spanish class?” he asked. It was his next class and she had just told him she was in it. He carried her books and they found they could talk to each other easily. It was almost a full week before they held hands and a few days after that before they shared a simple, quick kiss. He had no reason to create a plot to bring about the end of this world, but the first bits of the plan started to form in his young mind.
“My sins are removed as far away as the East is from the West, it says so in the Bible,” she suggested by her tone that she was pure and sinless but, I knew her better.
“Psalm,” I replied and just let it hang there.
“Who?” she asked.
“Psalm, it says that in Psalm one-hundred-three the twelfth verse.
“Says what?” she looked a little mystified.
“What you said, that your sins are removed as far away as the East is from the West. It’s written there in Psalm.”
“In the Bible right?”
“So I have no sin, it’s been removed,” she said with a good deal of pride. I wondered if that could be a sin.
“As far as the East is from the West, right?”
“Right,” she had made her point and was getting tired of me.
“Face to the East,” I asked nicely. She just gave me a confused look.
“Which way is East?” I understood her confusion and pointed toward the East. She turned in that direction.
“How far away is the West right now?” I asked.
“It’s East for as far as I can see. I could walk this way forever and never get to the West!” she said with a big smile.
The drip hit right in the middle of her head, but she didn’t move. She stared straight ahea like nothing had happened. Her blue eyes sparkled with presence, darting around like trapped wild birds but her head was still as stone. Another drip, dead center once more, four seconds after the drip before, and the one before that, still her head did not acknowledge the drips’ existence. Her blonde hair had been carefully parted in the middle and the moisture formed a line between the two banks of hair, which after twenty seconds more (and five drips more), became a tiny, slow moving river that flowed to the front of her head and then quickly down her forehead. The river followed the bridge of her nose and then stalled at the tip, and waited. Now every four seconds the water on the tip of her nose would drip. A drip onto the center of her head, and then two seconds would pass, and a drip would fall off her nose, another two seconds and a drip would land centered on her head. A drip every two seconds now: one to the head, one off the nose, one to the head, one off the nose, and still she showed no concern. A full minute passed from the time the first drip fell from her nose, a second minute. Her eyes stopped darting and focused on me, watching her. She stared at me while I counted seconds between drips off her nose, always four. Another minute passed. I felt a scream start to form at the base of my neck, something needed to be done, I moved from my chair and walked next to the table where she sat. Her blue eyes followed me.
“May I sit here?” I said with a wave at the chair across the small round table from her.
“Yes,” she said without moving her head. A drip fell from her nose.
“Are you okay?” I asked as soon as I had sat down.
“No,” she answered with a little more volume than was necessary.
“What’s wrong?” I asked using my best soft, non-threatening voice.
“I’m very mad!” she said keeping her jaw tight and talking from between her teeth.
“Would you tell me why?” I asked.
“Why should I tell you?” she demanded. A drip fell off her nose.
“I’m just concerned,” I answered. “Maybe there is something I could do to help.”
“There isn’t,” she said but her eyes started to water.
“Try me,” I pushed one more time planning to go back to my own table if she did not share.
“I’m mad because every four seconds a drip hits me on the top of the head and two seconds after the drip hits my head a drip falls off my nose. It’s not very pleasant,” she said all this without moving her jaws or her head.
“Why don’t you move out of the way of the drip?” I asked. “It’s what I would do.”
“I would rather the drip moved,” she said matter of factly. “I was here first.”
“It’s still raining outside. I don’t think the drip is going to go away for sometime now.”
“We’ll see,” She said. I stood and nodded a good bye. She did not nod or say anything but she did follow me with her sparkling blue eyes as I made my way back to my table. As I lowered myself onto my original chair a drip fell off her nose.
“Shut-up and sit!” it wasn’t very nice but something about the dimple in her cheek and her shoulder length black hair swinging with every movement of her round little head that took most of the sting out of it. I sat and made sure not a sound escaped my lips. I wanted to impress her with my obedience.
“Tilt your head back and don’t move!” I tilted my head back as far as it would go, bunching my neck muscles with my shoulder muscles.
“More.” my head went back another half an inch and I scooted forward in the chair an inch.
“Be still or I’ll cut your fool head off! “ she was shouting but it was like the opposite of a stage whisper and was not really very loud, the rest of the people in the room couldn’t hear. She smeared a warm, white form over half my face and down the front of my neck carefully wiping the gel from between her small fingers before reaching for the razor sharp blade lying on the counter behind me.
I gave my existence completely to her, closed my eyes and thought of good times while the razor sharp blade mowed tracks of stubble from my face.
“All done sir”, the dimple deepens when she smiles. “See that wasn’t so bad,” her smile is as good as any I’ve seen. As I climb out of the chair, with a quick look into the mirror, I can see a spot she missed. I reach into my back pocket for cash, thinking I can fix it at home but she’s too quick.
“Oh my I missed a spot!” before I can protest she has the knife back in her hand. She studies my head with her left hand and leans against me to keep me from bolting. It just takes a second to remove the strays and I get a big, satisfied smile from her. I grin back, like a kid with his first balloon, and dig ten bucks out of my wallet.