Like it Could Be, Sometimes Like It Is: Short Stories By Don McCormick

Just Harry

A year ago he denied being a citizen. He said he had returned his numbers, but he had lied, he had used them to answer official questions. Even though he had been serious about not being a citizen, about giving back his numbers, he had not been courageous. He had been unwilling to be tested by the authorities. The only courage he had mustered was to read his Denial of Citizenship poem to his friends. His friends did not take him seriously. They thought he had just expressed something they might have done in a fit of disappointment over the new world order.

He told himself he had to do something other than make proclamations. He had to act without permission from anyone. He had to become courageous. He could not tell a lie and let his words take the place of his actions. All the time he had imagined that the police would read his poem and arrest him. He was satisfied with that thought. It made him think he was courageous to just wait for justice, but it was foolish. No policeman cared about his thoughts. They only cared about his actions and whether he had his official papers with his assigned numbers. He knew he would never be courageous without doing something that put authority in perspective.

He removed his wallet from his pocket and emptied its contents on the kitchen table. He picked up one plastic card at a time, folded it back and forth until it broke. He ripped each piece of paper into small bits, even his money. He made a little pile of trash with the cards and the papers. He pushed the trash to the center of the table and looked at it with satisfaction. He felt free and courageous. It was not like he had been taken prisoner and forced to give up his credit and his identity. He had done it freely, like separating a wad of gum from the bottom of his shoe.

He put the little pile of trash into a sack. Then he took a box of matches and the sack of trash into the back yard. It was very still outside. There was moonlight, but it didn’t shimmer. He found a bare spot in the yard, put the sack of trash in the center of it, and lit it with a match. It burned very fast, but the fire was cold, and in a minute the sack of trash was ashes. He smiled and thought; “Well, it’s finally over.” It was the end of the first day in which nothing was lost.

He didn’t sleep that first night, not because of worry over losing nothing, but because of the excitement. It was as if he had painted something new and was much too close to its colors and freshness to judge what he had done. He felt high. He had hit the wall and kept going. Soon it was light and the second day had begun. The sky was red. There were a few clouds. It was brisk. It was a little more than nothing.

He had a difficult time deciding what to wear. He didn’t want to be uncomfortable, but he didn’t want to be cold. On this second day, the day that he had nothing official, he didn’t need pockets, but everything he owned had pockets. So he decided to wear a pair of pants that didn’t need a belt and a T-shirt with no collar. He knew that soon he wouldn’t have to make decisions about his clothes, because he would have the courage to burn his suits and ties and white shirts. All he would need was a match, the moonlight, and a bare spot in the back yard.

The drive to work made him anxious. Something usually happened. Last week a truck had missed the bridge and turned over just behind him. Today another truck could turn over in front of him and he could plow right into it. What if he did? What if he became a driver in an official accident? What if he had to say that he had chosen to be nobody, not registered, not identified? Would he still feel courageous? He was so excited he could hardly drive, but nothing happened.

At the office no one said anything about his clothes. He felt uncomfortable, just the opposite of how he had expected to feel. He was too much in himself. He felt too important. He couldn’t talk to his friends because he was afraid he would tell them what he had done and they wouldn’t care. He realized that on the second day you don’t know what you’re doing. Everything is too new.

The drive home was slow and uneventful. The sun went down in a gray sky and you could see the neon Chevron signs from miles away. There was no news and Pacifica Radio played a tape about the War Crimes Commission which Ramsey Clark had probably not organized. Clark said that after meeting in thirty different cities the Commission had found Bush, Cheney, Powell, and Swartzcoft guilty. The 80% heroes had murdered the Iraqi just for the power and the money. He waited to hear the outcome, but the program just ended.

After he got home he ate a bowl of chili, took a warm shower, and read the first chapter of How to be Your Own Lawyer. The first few pages of that book put him to sleep. It was the end of the second day.

Morning came. The bright sunlight in his room woke him. He laid in bed for about thirty minutes and thought about how courageous he still was, but he was no longer excited. He was comfortable. He would have stayed home, but there was nothing to do there, so he decided to go to work. He put on his tennis shoes, a pair of jeans, and the same white T-shirt. He ate some grape nuts, drank a cup of coffee, and left for work.

Traffic was thin and he drove fast in the flow of the trucks. Morning Edition was over and they were playing some classical music. He was adjusting the radio when he noticed the cars in front slowing and turning off the freeway. The DPS was stopping each car and talking to the driver. It was a check point. He became excited.

When his turn came the DPS officer bent down to his window and asked for his driver’s license and proof of insurance. Now, his time had come. He could tell someone about his courageous act and not just anyone, an official of the government. So he said, “I don’t have any papers.” The officer didn’t get excited. He stepped back from the car and said in his most official voice; “Sir, will you please move your car to the side of the road behind that patrol car, and then get out of it, and go to the back of the patrol car, and wait.” He did, and the officer walked over to his patrol car, got a clipboard, and came over to where he was waiting.

The officer said, “What is your name?”

He said, “Harry.”

“Harry what?”

“Just Harry.”

“Okay, Harry, do you know your driver’s license number?”

“No”

“Where do you live, Harry.”

“Here.”

“What’s your street address?”

“I can’t tell you because I’ve no regard for numbers.”

“Harry, you’re not being cooperative. Do you want me to have to take you in, or do you want to give me some straight answers?”

“I must be completely frank, I’ve burned all of my official papers with their numbers. I’ve decided not to be a citizen.”

“Are you from a foreign country, Harry?”

” No, I’m from here. I’m an earthling.”

“Are you some kind of nut case, Harry? This isn’t New York, you can’t go around in a car acting like some kind of street person.”

“Why, what harm have I done?”

“You don’t have your driver’s license and proof of insurance and you’re refusing to identify yourself?”

“It’s true, but I don’t have those things anymore. I’m a nobody.”

” Nobody or not, you’re breaking the law and it’s my job as an officer of the law to enforce it.”

“But I’m not a participant in any state and what the state does and what you enforce is meaningless?”

“You are a nut case. I going to have to take you downtown. Are you sure you want to go through that mess at the jail?”

“I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Well, Harry, you turn around now and put your hands behind your back, so I can cuff you.”

The officer handcuffed Harry and put him into the back of the patrol car. After several radio conversations the officer said,

“Who’s Robert Jones?”

“He owned the car I was driving, but he’s died and left it to me.”

“Where’s your title?”

“I never got one. I’m no longer a citizen.”

Harry was booked as Harry Doe. They took his picture and his finger prints and his belt and locked him in a cell. The cell had a toilet with no seat, and a sink, but no towel. He sat down. He had time to think. The officials were not in a hurry. The guard gave him two baloney sandwiches to eat. He was there at the wrong time for their regular meal. The next morning they took his clothes and gave him orange pajamas to wear. They also assigned him a number, 014569. He was now Harry Doe, 014569, City Jail. Officially, he was somebody.

At nine o’clock the guard opened his cell door, handcuffed him, and led him out of the cell. He was then chained by the foot to a line of other prisoners. The chained men were led to a paddy wagon and driven to the courthouse. They were taken to a special seating area in the courtroom. The leg chain that connected them was removed. The guard told them not to talk or to get up. They were each to have a hearing before Judge Johnson. If they tried to escape, they would be shot.

The first prisoner called was James Buckley, 014534, 1729 Haynes Street, Bryan, Texas. He was charged with PI. The judge set his bail at $250 and asked him how he wanted to plea. He said guilty. The judge didn’t even look up. He said, “Your fine is $250 less time served. If you can pay the bailiff, the guard will release you.”

Harry was next. The judge read the charge to himself, then he looked up at Harry. He said, “Just Harry, huh?” Harry said,

“Yes, your honor, just Harry.”

“Are you trying to hide something, Harry?”

“No, your honor.”

“If you don’t tell me who you are Harry, I’m going to have to order a psychiatric examination. You can’t drive a car on the city streets unless we know who you are. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, your honor. I’m Harry. I’m nobody. I have chosen not to be a citizen and not to have official papers with numbers.”

“Harry, you’re having a problem with reality, aren’t you? I’m going to order a doctor to examine you. Go sit with the others who are going back to the jail and the doctor will come to talk with you there.”

Harry was taken back to his cell. They served meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas for lunch and iced tea to drink. It was as good as they had at the lunch counter where Harry worked. There was nothing to read. He had time to think, but he got bored and he fell asleep.

They served hamburgers and Jell-O and iced tea for supper. He could have had milk or coffee, but he wasn’t sure about the milk, and the coffee looked gray. For Harry, jail was much like being a citizen, he had a name and a number and he was in a place known to the officials. He looked forward to the next meal. It gave him something to think about.

On the morning of the fifth day the psychiatrist came to see Harry. The psychiatrist was Scottish, from near Loch Ness, a huge man with interesting eyes. He and Harry met in a small office that had only a table and two chairs. The guard locked them in the room and stood outside. The doctor had a file folder which he read and then placed on the table. He introduced himself, “I’m Dr. Benjamin Mc Laine from Scotland, near Loch Ness.” He held out his hand to shake. Harry shook his hand and said, “I’m Harry.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, just Harry.”

“Do you know why you’re here, Harry.”

“Yes, I have no license or insurance papers and I said I was no longer a citizen, so they think I’m crazy.”

“Are you crazy, Harry?”

“No.”

“Why don’t you want to tell them who you are, Harry?”

“I told them, they just want me to be someone I’m not.”

“Who is that, Harry?”

“A citizen with a number.”

“Are you sure that’s what they want, Harry?”

“I think the officials want us to be identified by name, number, place of origin, address, and citizenship.”

“Do you think there is something wrong with that, Harry?”

“Yes, it’s parasitical.”

“Why do you say that, Harry?”

“Because the only reason the officials want citizens is to extract taxes and create soldiers. Those in power and their tax collectors and their military commanders are the parasites. As a consequence, they make everyone who agrees to be a citizen into a parasite.”

“Do you think you are a parasite, Harry.”

“I was, but now I’m not. I’m no longer a citizen.”

“Harry, you’re in jail. Do you know that?

“Of course, there’s no lid on the toilet and no towels and, as you can see, I have on orange pajamas with no belt.”

“Don’t you think being in jail makes you a parasite in spite of your not saying you are a citizen? Aren’t you eating food others have given you and paid for with tax money?”

“It’s not my choice, it’s their choice. They are the parasites.”

“Do you want to get out of here, Harry?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Don’t you think it would be very easy to do that by just telling them who you are and showing them your driver’s license?”

“Yes, of course, but it wouldn’t be courageous.”

“You think it’s courageous to be in jail.”

“No, its courageous to be free of parasites. Being in jail is just boring.”

“What do you think will happen to you if you continue this kind of behavior.”

“The state will give up.”

“Why do you think that.”

“Because they are parasites and I am nothing. I drain too much of their energy and time. They have hired you to advise them about me. Eventually you will say that I am harmless and they will see no reason to continue to feed me.”

“That’s very amusing. Why do you think that I will say you are harmless?”

“Because you want to be paid for your time and you want to continue to get assignments from the court and you don’t want to risk that another doctor would dispute your opinion. You’re a parasite, but don’t be offended, I think everyone is a parasite. I’m just trying to avoid the worst aspects of that kind of behavior.”

“I want you to take some tests. Will you do that for me?”

“No.”

“No? Don’t you want to get out of jail?”

“You can’t use me to collect additional money from the court.”

“I don’t think we need to talk anymore.”

The doctor picked up his file folder, made a few notes in it and motioned to the guard to let him out of the office. Harry was returned to his cell.

On the morning of the sixth day they served S.O.S on stale toast. It was gray and sticky and had too little hamburger meat in it, but Harry ate it anyway. He asked the guard for something to read and the guard gave him an old copy of “People” magazine. It was amazing to Harry how well the morning was going. He was really enjoying reading when the guard came in to handcuff him for the trip to the courthouse.

It was the same routine, just a different set of prisoners. This time Harry was the first to be called before the judge. Judge Johnson looked at him and then at his file. He read it briefly and then said, “Harry, Dr. Mc Laine says you’re not crazy, but he suspects you’re hiding something from the court. Is he right, Harry?”

“Yes and no. I’m not crazy, but I have nothing to hide from the court.”

“What about your name, Harry, and your driver’s license, and your insurance?”

“I no longer have those, your honor.”

“Were they taken away from you, Harry?”

“No, your honor, I burned them.”

“You what?”

“I broke them, tore them and burned them. I wanted to be free of being a citizen.”

“Harry, you can’t do that. It’s against the law. You can’t do those kinds of things. I going to add destruction of government property to failure to carry a license and to show proof of financial responsibility. Your fine will be $750. If you will give the bailiff your name and address and pay your fine you will be released.”

“No.”

“What do mean, no?”

“I mean it wouldn’t be courageous. It would mean I regarded myself as a citizen, which I do not. Therefore, my answer is no.”

“Guard, return Harry to jail. He can sit out his $750 fine in his cell. Bring him back here tomorrow and I’ll talk to him about contempt of court for failing to tell the court his identity.”

Harry was taken back to jail. He was still courageous, but he had missed lunch. The guard gave him two baloney sandwiches. He ate them, but they made him thirsty. He didn’t have a cup so he drank water from his hand. At least he had a sink in his cell. He needed a tooth brush. His “People” magazine was gone. He laid down and looked at the ceiling. He tried to guess what kind of meatloaf they would serve at supper.

There was nothing to read and it was near the end of the sixth day. There were no other creatures in his cell and there were no plants. His dominion was bleak, but he still felt like the image of God.

It rained on the seventh day, but Judge Johnson still held court. Harry was full of contempt and Judge Johnson was in a bad mood. Judge Johnson said, “Harry, who are you, where is your home?”

Harry responded, “Your honor, I am Harry and I live on earth.”

“Don’t you play with this court. We are not here to amuse you. This is serious business. You could spend a long time in jail if you fool with me.”

“That’s not my choice, your honor.”

“Right, it’s not your choice. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I am going to impound your car until you produce your driver’s license and your proof of insurance and I’ll going to assign you a name and a temporary number. Clerk, give me a number.”

“A docket number, your honor?”

“That will do, fine.”

“Okay, your name is Harry Adams, your number is 966. You will use this address which is 1440 Travis so that you will be reminded of the need to obey the law in our state. Your fine today is reduced to $250 and is satisfied by the time you have served, but you must pay the $500 by the end of the week or a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Is that clear, Harry Adams.”

“Yes, your honor.”

Harry was returned to the jail. They gave him his clothes and took back their orange pajamas. They took his picture again with the name Harry Adams and the number 966 typed boldly on the official arrest record. They gave him a copy of his arrest record as his identification. They released Harry.

Harry walked home. The sky had cleared and the moon was still shining as it had shined the first night. He went into the kitchen, reached into his back pocket and pulled out his copy of the arrest record. He tore it into several pieces, picked up the pile of trash and went outside to the bare spot on the ground. The moonlight seemed to shimmer as he put the trash on the ground, took a match from his pocket, and lit the trash. It burned very brightly for just a few seconds, but didn’t give off any heat that he could feel. He mashed the ashes with his foot. He returned to his house.

Harry had just a week to decide whether to pay $500 or to let the warrant officer find Harry Adams, #966, at 1440 Travis. He regretted having lost the car. It was a classic.

To My Dear Friend, Ulric

Here is something from me and from Chekhov. He is still dead. We are still alive.

You’re crying for the things that are not. You’re not crying for the suffering that pokes you a little
to let you know that you’re alive.

“The beds in the room are screwed to the floor. Sitting or lying on them are men in blue hospital gowns and old fashioned nightcaps. These are the lunatics.”

You told me you were sick and I believed you. You don’t have to die to prove it. That would be going too far.

“He was stopped and brought home, and the landlady was sent for a doctor. Dr. Andrei Yefimych… prescribed cold compresses and laurel water, then sadly shook his head and left, telling the
landlady he would not come again, as one ought not interfere with people going out of their minds.”

If you can succeed in just doing nothing, call me at once as both of us will have become successful; you in doing it and me in having suggested it.

“The doctor stopped admitting any new lunatics long ago, and people who are fond of visiting insane asylums are few in this world.”

If just one more thing goes wrong I don’t know where in my brain I will store it. There are just so many things to remember, but if I don’t keep this last thing how will I know to get even with the gods. They will laugh at me and I won’t know why.

“Morals and logic do not enter into it. Everything depends on chance. Those who are put in here, stay here; those who are not, enjoy liberty, that’s all. And there is no morality or logic in the fact that I am a doctor and you are a mental patient – It’s pure chance, nothing more.”

Mary said that you seldom ate ice cream. I think that may be the cause of some of your bad luck. I’ve thought about it many times since the night she took me to the ice cream shop in Glen Cove. If you eat ice cream you don’t want anything else. It’s comforting, like masturbation and good music.

“My most esteemed friend, don’t believe it! he whispered, laying his hand on his heart. Don’t believe them! It’s a trick! All that is wrong with me is that in the course of twenty years I have found only one intelligent man in our whole town, and he is mad. I’m not ill. I’ve simply been caught in a vicious circle from which there is no way out. And it makes no difference to me now what happens.”

Rather than just do nothing as I’ve suggested, do just one thing. Doing nothing is too difficult. If you do just one thing and then fail, well, it’s just one thing and what does that matter?

“This accursed life!’ he snarled. ‘And what makes it so mortifying, so galling, is that life will end, not in any recompense for suffering, not with an apotheosis, as it does in an opera, but in death; a couple of attendants will come, take the corpse by the arms and legs, and drag it down to the cellar. Ugh! Well it doesn’t matter…. our day will come in the next world. I’ll come back as a ghost and haunt these swine. I’ll make their hair turn gray.”

It’s too bad we can’t just do things without knowing what we are doing, and without others knowing what we are doing and agreeing. It’s not a mental effort. Mental efforts are quick and easy. They don’t use much energy and they are perfect until the timecomes for a demonstration. In the end all of the work and all of the reward are in the physical effort.

“My God, my God….Yes, yes….You were pleased to say that while there is no philosophy in Russia, everyone philosophizes, even the little nobodies. But what harm does their philosophizing do anyone? …. So why this malevolent laugh, dear friend? And why shouldn’t these little people philosophize when they have no other satisfaction?….For an intelligent, cultured, proud, freedom loving man, made in the image of God, to have no alternative to becoming a doctor in a stupid, dirty little town, and spending his whole life applying leeches and mustard plasters! the quackery, the narrowness, vulgarity! Oh, my God!”

If I had a choice I think I wouldn’t read anything. Of course, there is no choice. I’ve analyzed it carefully and I see that books are full of words and words full of letters and letters are just ink
splattered by force onto paper. So the final substances are ink and the force that put it there, and I live by that. It’s a universal principle.

“After dinner Mikhail Averyanych came bringing a pound of tea and a pound of fruit candies. Daryushka also came and stood by the bed for an hour with the expression of dumb grief on her face.
and Dr. Khobotov visited him. He brought a bottle of bromine drops and ordered Nikita to fumigate the ward.

Toward evening Andrei Yefimych died of an apolectic stroke. He first suffered violent chills, and nausea; something loathsome seemed to permeate his entire body, even to his finger tips; it rose from his stomach and his head and flooded his eyes and ears. Everything turned green before him. Andrei Yefimych realized that the end had come and remembered that Ivan Dmitrich, Mikhail Averyanych, and millions of others believed in immortality. And what if they were right? But he felt no desire for immortality and gave it only a momentary thought. A herd of reindeer, about which he had been reading the day before, extraordinarily beautiful and graceful, ran by him; a peasant woman held out a registered letter to him….Mikhail Averyanych said something….Then all was gone, and Andrei Yefimych lost consciousness forever.”

When Bill died I had been watching him for about three hours. He would take deep breaths and his back would arch and his chest would fill with oxygen from the clear tube that was connected to
the blue nozzle in the wall. Then the air would go out of him with a loud rattle. His body would not let him die. I thought; it takes more than bad luck and thinking to kill someone. You have to sit on their chest and unplug the clear tube from the blue nozzle. The body won’t die just because it is suffering. There has got to be a reason. There’s got to be nothing left to do.

There are many things to do, and you are not yet immortal, and no one is standing on your chest and the oxygen blows freely in your rooms. You live in a big city and you know more than one
intelligent man and they have not yet been given blue hospital gowns. You still have some luck.

Trapped

Characters

Bob Miller, the Husband
Carolyn Miller, the Wife
John Harrison, Bob’s Client
Rescuer 1
Rescuer 2
Stretcher Bearers (4)
Radio Voice
Doug, Actor and Carolyn’s Friend
Dana, Actress and Carolyn’s Friend
Jerry, Dana’s Husband
Phil, Actor
Jeane, Actress
Laura, Bob’s Sister
Doug, Bob’s Brother-in-law
Julia, the Daughter
Jack, the oldest Son
Billy, the youngest Son
Henry, Bob’s Cousin
Reverend Raddock, the Minister
1st Preacher
2nd Preacher
4th Preacher
5th Preacher
Various Attendants

Prologue

Bob Miller is in his commercial real estate office in downtown San Francisco talking with John Harrison, a client, about a lease. Bob is trying to finish his work earlier than usual so he and his wife, Carolyn, can meet with Carolyn’s co-workers and friends to take part in an improvisation. Carolyn had asked Bob several weeks before to join her group and he has finally agreed. Carolyn is an actress and a dancer, as are her friends, and they recently began doing improvisations privately after rehearsals. Some of the other actors also have asked their spouses to participate in the improvisations. Some play parts and some make up a small audience that interacts with the players.

The group has discovered that when they include spouses and friends in the improvisations the dialogue changes considerably. It creates a kind of psycho-drama in which the players and the audience forget they are acting and begin to talk from their own experiences and feelings. Doug, one of the actors who started the group, suggests a scene and a set of circumstances before everyone meets and then chooses the characters to begin the improvisation. No one gives any other direction. It is just expected that people will find themselves in the conversations and say, as nearly as possible, exactly what is in their minds and hearts. At first the scenes are very difficult to start because people have trouble not acting. They sometimes stop the scene to comment to Doug or say something to someone in the audience in a private little laugh or comment. Often they realize that their asides have become part of the improvisation and they return to the main conversation and action with more reflection than before.

Carolyn was very anxious for Bob to participate with her group. She thought that the scene and set of circumstances Doug had suggested for the improvisation this week had good parts for her and Bob. It had only two characters, a man and a wife, engaged in long conversation. She thought that Bob, who was not an experienced actor, might be able to handle that kind of improvisation well. The scene was to be a Rocky Mountain hiking trail and the characters were trapped by an avalanche in small cave on the side of the mountain without either food or water. They know they are not very likely to be found and that they will die from exposure in a very short time. It is to be their last conversation.

Bob is to meet Carolyn at the theater about 3 P.M. Carolyn is concerned that Bob will not leave on time as his habit has been to go home after seven. She has called twice to remind him of the time. After Carolyn’s second call Bob gets upset because of her pestering.

Bob and John are in Bob’s Office. Blue prints and papers are on the desk. They are standing on opposite sides of the desk slightly bent over the papers.

Act One.Scene One – The Office

Bob. “I can’t get more rent abatement on this lease. There is no space like it near the price and if you don’t take it then they’ll rent it to someone else.”

John. “I can get the same space at the same rate with three months abatement just across the bridge in Oakland. You can do better.”

Bob. “But, that’s Oakland, this is the real city and you’ve signed the lease already.”

John. “You haven’t delivered it yet.”

Bob. “ No, I haven’t delivered it yet.”

(Phone rings and Bob answers. It is Carolyn.)

Bob. “Miller Properties.”

Carolyn. “Are you coming?”

Bob. “Yes, of course.”

Carolyn. “Now?”

Bob. “In a minute.”

Carolyn. “What does that mean?”

Bob. “It means, in a minute.”

Carolyn. “Is someone with you?”

Bob. “Yes.”

Carolyn. “Then that means you’ll be late.”

Bob. “No.”

Carolyn. “If you’re late Doug will just start without you, and I won’t forget that you did it again.”

Bob. “I won’t be late.”

Carolyn. “You should leave right now. Okay, right now?”

Bob. “Okay, okay.”

Carolyn.”Bye.”

Bob. “Bye.”

John. “Well, you make the changes and I’ll sign it again and you see if they’ll take it.”

Bob. “Okay, Okay. I’ll do it again . I’ll rewrite the abatement clause.”

John. “I’ll wait while you do it.”

Bob. “No, I can’t do it now. I’ve got a family thing this afternoon. I can’t do it until tomorrow.”

John. “That might be too late. I hate going across that damn Bridge in the traffic.”

Bob. “I’m sorry. I just can’t do it now. I’ll take it home, and get it back to you first thing in the morning.”

John. “Well, if you can’t, you can’t. You’ll pay for the courier services, right?”

Bob. “Okay, okay. Tomorrow for sure and I’ll pay.”

(John exits and phone rings again. It’s Carolyn.)

Bob. “Miller Properties.”

Carolyn. “See, you’re still there.”

Bob. “Goddamnit, I’m leaving. Bye.”

Carolyn. “Okay, but you don’t have to talk that way.”

Act One:Scene Two – The Car

It is only a mile to the theater and traffic is not too bad for a Monday. Bob tunes the radio to the classic rock station. They are playing Dr. Hook’s, “Cover of the Rolling Stone.” It is good piece to change his mood from the spat with Carolyn. About 2:30 P.M. he arrives at the theater. He parks and as soon as he opens the door to get out of the car he remembers that he has left Harrison’s file at his office. He gets back into the car, picks up his phone and calls Carolyn.

Carolyn answers. “Hello.”

Bob.”Hi.”

Carolyn.”You’re not coming?”

Bob.”No, no I’m right outside, but I’ve forgotten the Harrison file and I’ve got to go back to the office.”

Carolyn.” There is not enough time. Why don’t you just forget it?”

Bob. “There is enough time. Don’t start on me now. I’ll be back in just a minute.”

Carolyn. “No you won’t. You think more of your damn business than you think of us.”

Bob. “Bullshit. We have plenty of time; the thing is not until three.”

Carolyn. “You’ll be late, I know it, and Doug won’t wait for you. He’ll just cancel the improvisation this week. You’ll have let your business screw us up again. This is important to me, damnit.”

Bob. “Then why don’t you come out to the car now and go with me? You can wait in the car with the motor running while I run up to the office and get the file. That way it will be faster, and I won’t get a ticket for double parking.”

Carolyn. “No. I’m not going and I don’t care if you get a ticket.”

Bob. “Well, shit, then just stay there like as ass until I get back.”

Bob hangs up the car phone and starts on his way back to his office to get the Harrison file. In the car, he grunts, turns up the radio, and drives away. Dr. Hook’s ‘Things I Didn’t Say’ plays on the radio. He arrives at the office, double parks the car, rushes in and retrieves the Harrison file. He arrives back at the theater at 2:55 P.M. and walks slowly up to the stage where Carolyn and Doug are talking. Several other people are standing there, too.

Act One:Scene Three-The Theater

Doug. “Bob! Glad to see that you made it. Carolyn said you had to return to your office. She was afraid you wouldn’t get back in time.”

Bob. “She always worries, but, see, I’m here on time. Just tell me where to go and what to do.”

Doug. “Well, I guess Carolyn told you what the improvisation is supposed to be about.”

Bob. “Yes, she told me. It’s a couple trapped in a cave under an avalanche. They’re supposed to talk before they die.”

Doug. “Good, you’ve got it.”

Bob. “We’ll see.”

Doug. “Do you know the others here? This is Dana and her husband, Jerry, and this is Phil, and Jeane is over there (points off stage). Everyone, this is Bob, Carolyn’s husband. He’s going to be wonderful today as the other trapped person in our little improvisation.”

Bob. “Yes, I think I know everyone. Hi, everyone. I’ll try my best, but I really don’t know what I’m doing.”

Doug. “Let’s begin right away, okay? Carolyn you stand here and Bob you stand slightly away from her, here. The rest of you go sit out of the light, over there. You’ll be the audience that eavesdrops on this couple’s private thoughts. Now, remember you are both trapped in a cave and realize that you probably will not get out alive. Dana, turn down the lights so that there is just dim light to show their outline. . . ..That’s good. Let’s begin. Bob, you can start the dialogue.”

Bob. “Carolyn! are you okay? Can you say anything?”

Carolyn. “I’m okay, I tkink. Did you get hurt? I can’t see you. I can’t see anything.”

Bob. “ I’m okay. I can see you. There is a little light. Can you move everything?”

Carolyn. “I don’t know yet, I’m too scared.”

Bob. “I’ll come to you. Just stay still.” He moves toward her and takes her into his arms. “Lets try to sit down.” They sit slowly.

Carolyn. “Bob, I’m so scared.”

Bob. “It’s okay, I’ve got you. We’ll just sit here. Easy, easy.”

Carolyn. “Are we trapped in here? What are we going to do?”

Bob. “I don’t know. We’ll get out. I see a glint of light. Maybe I can dig us out or maybe someone will find us.”

Carolyn. “We going to die, Bob. I just know it. We’re trapped and we’re going to die. I can’t stand it. We’ve got to get out of here, we’ve got to get free. You’ve got to do something.”

Bob. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay. It will be okay, You’ll see. Just be calm.”

Carolyn. “I can’t, I scared, we’ve got to do something or we’ll die.”

Bob. “It’s okay, Carolyn, just be still.”

Carolyn. “I can’t help it, I can’t help how I feel now. No one knows we are here. We just went on a hike and we haven’t told anyone where we would be.”

Bob. “Someone at the lodge will figure it out. They know there was an avalanche and they’ll be counting heads. There were more people than us on this mountain.”

Carolyn. “When do you think they’ll come?”

Bob. “Not for a long time. It won’t be safe for days.”

Carolyn. “Did you see what happened? Did you see how much rock and snow came down the side of that mountain?”

Bob. “Yes, I couldn’t do anything. Even God couldn’t do anything. It was too fast. There was nothing I could do. We’re just lucky that this cave was here.”

Carolyn. “ I don’t see the glint of light from outside. Didn’t you say there was a glint of light?”

Bob. “It’s there. See.”

Carolyn. “That’s more of a glow than a glint. I thought it was just my brain? I still don’t think it’s a light. I’m cold now. Are you cold?”

Bob. “No. I can’t feel much of anything. Perhaps this is a dream. Are we dreaming, Carolyn?”

Carolyn. “It’s no dream and I’m so cold. I want you to hold me close, and don’t let go of me. I’m starting to hurt, now. I think I hurt my leg trying to get here.”

Bob. “I won’t let go of you. You’ll be all right. You know, I didn’t think I’d get to talk to you like this before I died. I thought I’d have a heart attack and just go. I thought you would be an old widow who put flowers on my grave. And I thought I’d have a real grave.”

Carolyn. “If we’re going to die, maybe we should pray or something.”

Bob. “I don’t know what prayer to say. Maybe I could say how stupid this is. We were just hiking for our health and now we are buried and trapped behind a pile of rocks and ice. What do we do, ask for forgiveness? What have we done anyway? Why aren’t we dead already? I can’t think about this. It will make me crazy and I’ll cry and I’ll feel sorry for us and we’ll both give up.”

Carolyn. “Why don’t we just stay close like this until someone finds us. Can you feel how cold my hand is on your cheek?”

Bob. “Yes, I feel it. God, you are cold.”

Carolyn. “I won’t do that to you. You’ll get cold from me if I keep this up. I remember a prayer, now, Bob. Say it with me. ‘Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Bob. “Isn’t there more?”

Carolyn. “No, that’s it.”

Bob. “I thought there was more to it, an ending or something? Is that enough?”

Carolyn. “It’s enough.”

Bob. “We didn’t even need to come up here to do this. If I had known this would happen do you think I would have come here? I’m going to try to dig us out. Just stay here.”

Carolyn. “No, don’t do it. You’ll make it worse.”

Bob. “ I have to try.” He gets up goes to the light and begins digging with his hands. He clears a hole about two feet deep and and reaches a large rock. He moves the rock and the hole collapses while making a roaring sound. ‘Goddamnit.’ He crawls back to Carolyn.”

Carolyn. “Oh my God, are you hurt?”

Bob. “No, but we are probably more trapped now.”

Carolyn. “Oh No, I’m sorry.[pause] If we talk about something else maybe it will help us get through this. You know, when we were young, I thought you were so handsome. I thought we would live forever. I wanted us to live forever. Did you love me then?”

Bob. “I always loved you. I thought we would grow old together. I would die first and you would stand over my grave and say, ’I knew you would leave before it was over, you bastard.”

Carolyn. “I would never say that. I would never say you were a bastard. You’re a good man.”

Bob. “Maybe not, maybe I’ve been a bastard.”

Carolyn. “No, you’re been a good man and I’ve loved you. I love you now.”

Bob. “I love you, too. . . ..I’m getting cold too.”

Carolyn. “You don’t feel cold to me.”

Bob. “Will people pity us when we’re dead? Do you think they’ll know we talked like this before we died when they find us stone cold in this cave?”
Carolyn. “No, they won’t look at us. It’ll be like they’re ashamed of what happened, as if God didn’t care. Somehow they’ll think they’re to blame because someone should have known the ice and rocks would fall.”

Bob. “They’ll tell our next of kin. They’ll send someone to tell our children we’ve died.”

Carolyn. “Our children will know already.”

Bob. “How will they know?”

Carolyn. “Because they’re our children. When your own family dies you can feel that everything is wrong. Like when someone you love is about to cry. What they feel spills into your soul. It’s like when you try to speak, but hesitate, because you know the answer already from the ordinary things that have not happened….Can you still feel my hand, is it very cold?”

Bob. “Yes, but it’s not as cold now.”

Carolyn. “I hurt now, I think my legs are swelling.”

Bob. “Maybe I could rub them or something?”

Carolyn. “No, that’s okay, just hold me. If we sleep maybe when we wake up it will all be over and we will be home.”

Bob. “Maybe, but I don’t think I could. Time seems too precious.”

Carolyn. “Do you remember when we first met? It was on the phone. I couldn’t see you then either. We just talked. I remember that we laughed and laughed, but I can’t remember why. Were we just too happy. Do you remember how happy we were?”

Bob. “Yes, I knew you already. I had seen you before our conversation. We had been introduced two years before and I remembered how you looked. I was enjoying seeing your face in my mind as we talked. I was glad we were going to be friends. I could hear it in your laughter.”

Carolyn. “That was twenty years ago. We were saying nothing, and nothing was good enough to hold the phone line open for hours. I just liked to hear you breathe.”

Bob. “I didn’t know you were so passionate then.”

Carolyn. “Not passionate, just young. When you’re young time is so remote in both directions that having a conversation or not having a conversation is the same thing.”

Bob. “Not like now when time has been compressed and the conversation is everything. “

Carolyn. “Yes, everything. I thought it would come to this, but not so soon and not so suddenly.”

Bob. “We might yet escape. Someone might find us.”

Carolyn. “Sure, someone will come. We just have to wait.”

Bob. “Yes, just wait. Are you still cold?”

Carolyn. “No, I am getting warm and I tingle. I’m swelling, I hope we’ll be found before the swelling begins to hurt too much.”

Bob. “Maybe.”

Carolyn. “Julia will miss us most, don’t you think? Remember how she always came to our room to say good night and then stayed to hug us and play, and then we had to carry her to her bed.”

Bob. “I love Julia. God will help her. Don’t forget, she has her brothers, they’ll help her too.”

Carolyn. “And who’ll help those little boys? Jack is nearly grown, but Billy is so young. I love them all so much. Do you think they will remember me as the Mom who always said no?”

Bob. “You didn’t always say no. They’ll remember your laughter and your hugs. They’ll remember how you danced with them.”

Carolyn. “Bob, I don’t want to die now. This is so stupid.”

Bob. “I don’t want to die either. Can you touch my face again?”

Carolyn. “Can you feel my hand?”

Bob. “I feel it.”

Carolyn. “Why doesn’t he answer us?”

Bob. “Who?”

Carolyn. “God.”

Bob. “How would he answer?”

Carolyn. “I don’t know. I always thought he would answer you if you really needed him.”

Bob. “I never thought so.”

Carolyn. “Why, don’t you believe in God?”

Bob. “That’s not it. Don’t you remember the stories of Job and Jesus? If there is a God, he’s dead silent. What was it Jesus was supposed to have said when he was dying on the cross? Wasn’t it: ‘ My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Carolyn. “That’s from the 42nd psalm. I think the writer was just being prophetic.”

Bob. “Maybe, but it still says that God doesn’t talk. I think that’s true.”

Carolyn. “Maybe we’re not listening well enough.”

Bob. “Maybe, but it’s not like the movies. You don’t expect some music and some bright light in the distance, do you.”

Carolyn. “Probably, I do. I never thought about it before now. I’ve just done what was expected. You know, I’ve listened to the words, believed, and did the ceremonies. People always talked like they had heard God and I believed them.”

Bob. “Well, I guess I didn’t. I mean I didn’t know. I used to think I didn’t believe. Once, when I was fourteen, I didn’t pray with the kids in my class and the teacher sent me to the principal. They really got upset when I told them I didn’t believe, and that’s why I didn’t pray. They didn’t know what to do to me. That’s when I realized God was silent. He wasn’t telling the big people what to do.”

Carolyn. “Why do you suppose he doesn’t talk?”

Bob. “I don’t know. Don’t you remember that Paul said faith was like looking through a dark glass.”

Carolyn. “I thought that just meant faith was intuitive, that you just couldn’t reason about it.”

Bob. “It could mean that, but I think the message is much more harsh. You know, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Carolyn. “Does that mean we might die here and never know if God exists? We might not even know if our lives mean anything.”

Bob. “Do you think your life means anything?”

Carolyn. “Of course.”

Bob. “Well, isn’t that good enough? Isn’t that the message from the silent God.”

Carolyn. “I never understood it that way. All my life people have talked about God and I never thought they were making up his words. You always just ignored everyone. I didn’t know you had any beliefs at all.”

Bob. “I’m not sure I do. What difference does it make? The end is the same for everyone. Most of the talk about god is about the good and the bad people do. I have always objected to the bad, even though I’ve never done anything to stop it. And I have never been against goodness and kindness, but there’s not much to say about that.”

Carolyn. “But haven’t you been interested in truth.”

Bob. “You mean like Pontius Pilot when he asked Jesus about truth and Jesus didn’t answer? Don’t you think Jesus didn’t answer because truth is not something that concerns a God that knows everything.”

Carolyn. “Pilot was just being cynical and didn’t deserve an answer.”

Bob. “It could mean more. Look at our situation. You don’t hear God and you wonder why. That means you have to die with your faith and I have to die with my doubts. In our cases neither truth nor cynicism means anything.”

Carolyn. “It’s better to die with faith.”

Bob. “Is there a choice? Isn’t faith supposed to be a gift? Peter had it, didn’t he? Thomas didn’t, right? Wasn’t Peter the one with the bad character? Didn’t he cut off a slave’s ear and then deny that he knew Jesus three times. I guess that’s the reason Jesus gave Peter the job of feeding everyone, sort of a penance for his bad character, stupidity and simple faith.”

Carolyn. “You make Peter sound bad. As I remember, Thomas just accepted the proof saying ‘My Lord and my God.’ I wonder which way was best?”

Bob. “Maybe that’s why faith is said to be a gift.”

Carolyn. “Does that mean we’re both going to heaven, then.”

Bob. “You’re there already.”

Carolyn. “I don’t believe that. I still think there’s more.”

Bob. “Living and dying are same thing.”

Carolyn. “That’s not true. There’s more. I know it.”

Bob. “You believe it. It’s your gift. Look, everything the silent God makes, dies. If there is a heaven to go to it must be inside of death.”

Carolyn. “That’s what you mean by heaven and this trap being the same thing?”

Bob. “I don’t know what I mean. I remember reading that Carl Jung carried around the parts of a knife that had exploded in his mother’s kitchen cabinet as a reminder to himself that there was evident of the supernatural. He even decided to become a psychiatrist because he thought the study of the mind and personalities could be an empirical science. What a gift? I wish I had a gift, too. Why don’t you touch my cheek again and that will be my gift?”

Carolyn. “I love you, but I don’t understand you.”

Bob. “I love you, too. Maybe someone will find us and what I think won’t make any difference to anyone, even me.”

Carolyn. “Maybe they will find us, but in case they don’t shouldn’t we confess our sins, Bob?”

Bob. “Which ones?”

Carolyn. “All of them.”

Bob. “Usually people don’t say all of their sins because they’re not sure if they qualify, but if it’s important to you, okay.”

Carolyn. “I think it’s important.”

Bob. “I know. Where do you want to begin?”

Carolyn. “This is hard. I thought it would be in secret.”

Bob. “Then don’t tell me.”

Carolyn. “No, it’s okay. I want to. It’s about us. You should know. I’ve been unfaithful to you.”

Bob. “You’ve been unfaithful to me?”

Carolyn. “Yes.”

Bob. “More than once?”

Carolyn. “Yes. And, I’ve been selfish and angry and I haven’t prayed.”

Bob. “Do you think God will forgive you?”

Carolyn. “Yes.”

Bob. “Then you must feel better now.”

Carolyn. “Yes.”

Bob. “Do I know him?”

Carolyn. “Who?”

Bob. “Your lover?”

Carolyn. “Yes.”

Bob. “So, who was he?”

Carolyn. “Doug.”

(The audience snickers and Carolyn laughs a little too as she glances at Doug.)

Aside, Carolyn says: “ I couldn’t think of a name.”

Bob. “My brother-in-law?”

(The audience snickers again and Doug mockingly wipes the sweat from his brow.)

Carolyn. “Yes, Doug. But it’s over now.”

Bob. “Everything’s over now. Why didn’t I know?”

Carolyn. “Because you don’t pay attention to anything.”

Bob. “You really didn’t think that was a sin, did you?”

Carolyn. “I guess not.”

Bob. “Why did you confess it then?”

Carolyn. “It was in the list.”

Bob. “What do you mean it was in the list.”

Carolyn. “In the Catholic Church they give you a list of commandments to review before confession and adultery is in the list.”

Bob. “You didn’t say it like it was a list item.”

Carolyn. “Maybe not, but I know you’ve done the same thing more than once.”

Bob. “I never tried to hide it.”

Carolyn. “I know. That’s why Doug was so easy for me.”

Bob. “So, he wasn’t a lover? You took him just to get even with me?”

Carolyn. “In a way, I guess. It wasn’t for the lovers you’ve had though. It was for the loneliness you caused me.”

Bob. “What loneliness?”

Carolyn. “All of your lovers weren’t women. There was your work, you know. If you had really known your women lovers, they would probably have been lonely too. You’ve loved what you’ve done and you’ve done it alone, as if no one else mattered in your life. How do you think that made me feel?”

Bob. “ I was doing what I had to do.”

Carolyn. “You were doing what you wanted to do.”

Bob. “I wasn’t trying to leave you out of what I was doing. You had your own life, the kids, the theater, your friends. And you don’t like business.”

Carolyn. “I wanted us to share some of our lives not just pass in the night like two ships.”

Bob. “Didn’t you think I loved you?”

Carolyn. “What’s that got to do with loneliness? Love’s the easy part of everything, at least, the way you mean it.”

Bob. “Why are we having this conversation now? Is this how we should spend what may be our last night together?”

Carolyn. “Did you want to wait until after we are dead to talk about us?”

Bob. “I didn’t mean that. I didn’t want you to feel bad, that’s all.”

Carolyn. “Thanks, we’ll pretend our lives have been wonderful and when the rescue team digs us out of here they can tell everyone that we loved each other until the last breath of air we took. We could just cry inside that we were never able to see that what we did to each other in our separate lives could have been different. We could have really loved each other and I would not have been so lonely and you may have been happier, too.”

Bob. “I’m sorry. I can’t do it over again. I’m not sure it would matter. I don’t know how two people make one life. I always thought that was an illusion. I never thought it mattered that we were stupid. I thought if we just existed each day and renewed our past that we would be okay. We would forgive us. Then after we were okay nothing would happen. We would just have an ice cream and short walk and then die.”

Carolyn. “Now we’re trapped and there’s no ice cream and we can’t walk anywhere. All we’ve got is what we say. So where do we begin. You’re the smart one, you know. I just thought you were stupid about the way you feel. I think you have just denied yourself the kind of life you really wanted.”

Bob. “I’ve been following one day at a time like an open file. The private things were just snatched from the ending of one thing until the beginning of another. You were always there and I thought we were okay. I thought I would get to us as soon as the light came up on the day the files didn’t open. Now that it’s all over I can see the illusion as if it were a granite rock hanging in the sky.” [He cries softly] “ I do love you and I am sorry.”

Carolyn. “I could have done better, too. I’ve been all locked up inside. I have waited until now to speak, and I’ve played little games, like with Doug. But, worst, really, because I went on with our lives the way we were. I made a way without you, a circle of deeds, some to please me and some to feed my resentment. I’m glad I could dance. When I dance I don’t have to think and when I’m not thinking the world is an apricot I peal and eat with great pleasure. There are the children, too. I thank you for the children -not the pain and not the work- but the people they are. You don’t know this because you are a man. When you are not a mother -I mean once you are a mother- then almost nothing else matters, not even your life. Do you remember the story of Poverty? She was Love’s mother and she conceived of Love by taking advantage of the god, Contrivance, while he was drunk on nectar. At first, you know, she did it to have something to overcome her beggar conditions. When she became a mother she knew it had been for Love, her son. Here, in motherhood, reason does not rule anyone. Here, the heart rules and when it rules me that’s when we are one. So, in spite of everything I love you and for so many reasons that are in my genes that I could not even begin to say them.”

Bob. “I suppose I don’t understand you because you speak so plainly what you feel. I suppose I think too much before I answer and when I answer I am my father’s son. I say things I think will mend broken moments and I feel nothing until it smashes me in the face. Were I to have a child and hold him to my breast, I, too, could feel what you say and know what you want. Having heard what you have said I think my declaration of love rings hollow. There’s no flesh and blood in the words.”

Carolyn. I know you hurt and I know we have not lived the way I talk. Our lives have been like the walk you want to take, and mostly, I’ve been content with that. It has been one gentle step after another and waiting under awnings when it rains. I guess if I had wanted more I would have taken it and if I had wanted you to be different I would have said so before now. These are our desperate moments and I have an urge to say everything I’ve felt in case we should die and I would regret not having known you.

Bob. “ Can you imagine that for all practical purposes we are dead already. Yet, in these last moments, you and I have stretched our lives as far as in our whole past existence. My sister said she had been with many people when they died. Some never said much, and some planned every detail of their funeral. They divided their estates as carefully as you would set a Christmas table. Then there were some who denied that they were even dying. Isn’t that strange? You would think that if you knew it was the end of your life you would struggle mightily like a great fish hooked on a thin wire. You know how it flops around on the deck of the boat until the last bit of strength is drained from its body. It’s usually not that way though. My sister said, it was just as T.S. Eliot said it would be, they mostly die with a whimper.”

Carolyn. “Why don’t we just finish all that we have to say, and then we’ll be silent, and your silent God can have us until we are nothing again. We will be the beginning of the universe.”

Bob. “If we stop talking then I will just fall into thinking. The noises in my head will push out the silent God and only you and he will be able to begin the universe. Do you think we can finish all we have to say? Poets write about glances between people as if they had spoken a flood of words. Even silence is not silence.”

Carolyn. “Yes, I know. I know what you mean. I’m warm now and I want to sing something for us. Just hold me.” (She begins to sing.)

Morning has broken
like the first morning
blackbird has first spoken
like the first bird
praise for the singing
praise for the morning
praise for them springing
fresh from the word:
sweet the rains new fall
sunlit from heaven
like the first dewfall
on the first grass
praise for the sweetness
of the wet garden
sprung in completeness
where his feet pass
mine is the sunlight
mine is the morning
born of the one light
Eden saw play
praise with elation
praise every morning
God’s recreation
of the new day
morning has broken.

There is a long pause. The improvisation has apparently ended.

Doug. “Bravo, bravo.”

The audience claps and they get up and go over to Bob and Carolyn. Everyone talks at once saying how good the parts were and how surprised they were at Bob’s performance.

The lights come up. Bob and Doug walk off the stage together. Dana and Carolyn stay on the stage and talk.

Dana. “I thought there was something going on between you and Doug.”

Carolyn. “That was funny wasn’t it? Bob sure picked up that line well, didn’t he?”

Dana. “He was really good. I guess he’s just in real estate so more actors can get steady work.”

Carolyn. “Yeah, he was good, but he was just being himself.”

Dana.” Uh, huh, and who were you pretending to be? I think the business about Doug is true.”

Carolyn. “You wish. Don’t you think Cat Stevens would have been jealous if he had heard that song?”

Dana. “Sure, he’d eat his heart out. Well, got to go, sweetie. Next week you get to watch me. Ciao.”

Act One:Scene Four – The Car

Bob and Carolyn are driving across to Oakland Bridge to their home.

Carolyn. “You were very, very good. Much better than I expected. You have a natural talent.”

Bob. “That’s sweet. I enjoyed it. You were good too, as always. I think the whole thing was so much like our past conversations that I just forgot we were acting.”

Carolyn. “Me, too. At times I didn’t even know we were in the theater. I felt like we were home in bed with the lights out.”

Bob. “There’s not much difference between acting and real life except for the butterflies. Once your mind is taken over by the play there is just no difference.”

Carolyn. “Don’t you suppose that a bad play is just the result of the actors not completely transforming into the characters they play?”

Bob. “It could be the writer. The actors may not be able to convert his thoughts to their own. Instead, they let their minds flip between their idea of the character and the real character. The confusion destroys the reality of the play.”

Carolyn. “ Don’t you think the audience has to become the characters too? I mean, isn’t that why they either like a play or not?”

Bob. “I think liking a play is probably simpler for an audience. They may come and go in becoming one with the characters, yet they may still like the play. They don’t need to understand anything. They can experience various waves of emotion and fill in the reality of the play from their own imaginations. They are like tourists who see Europe in seven days. You probably have to be old and humble before you realize that you can never see anything once and understand it completely.”

Bob and Carolyn leave the Oakland Bridge and drive onto Highway 880. Then the earthquake begins.

Carolyn. “Oh my God, it’s an earthquake.”

Bob. “Duck,Duck, the road’s coming down on us, Oh shit!”

The car is smashed beneath the concrete. The rubble settles and it becomes quiet except for the sirens in the distance.

Act One:Scene Five – The Collapsed Highway

Rescue teams are removing the rubble and looking for survivors. A crane lifts a slab of concrete from Bob and Carolyn’s car. One of the rescuers sees them in the car and forces the door open with a power crowbar. They are dead, but do not appear to have been crushed by the fallen concrete. They are in each other’s arms.

Rescuer 1. “These two are gone. They don’t look crushed, but they’re gone, no pulses. They’re not breathing. Internal injuries probably, maybe shock and exposure.”

Rescuer 2. “I’ll radio for some more help. Central, this is rescue one-three, over.

Central. “Go ahead, one-three.”

Rescuer 2. “ We’ve got two bodies in a vehicle where crane number 2 is working. Send us a team with two body bags. Over.”

Central. “Roger, one-three, they’re on their way, Over and Out.”

Rescuer 2. “These two are stone cold. Let’s pull them out of the car.”

Rescuer 1. “Do they smell yet?”

Rescuer 2. “No, it’s too soon and it’s been too cold. It’s not like Nam, Frank. I had some hope that we would find someone alive when I first saw them in the car. Just bad luck for them.”

Rescuer 1. “Yeah, bad luck. Let’s get their IDs and tape them to their arms. We don’t want to fuck up on who they are and cause someone else to have a heart attack.”

Four men arrive with the two body bags. They put the bodies into the bags and carry them away. You hear the crane working and the wheels of the ambulance rolling over gravel. You hear radios going on and off.

Act Two:Scene One – The Funeral

Bob and Carolyn’s children, Julia, Jack, and Billy are standing in the foyer of the chapel. Their parent’s bodies are displayed inside. Their Aunt Laura and Uncle Doug are standing beside them. People are coming up to each of them and offering condolences. Then the people sign a register and go into the chapel to view the bodies. They take their seats. Julia speaks softly with her aunt Laura.

Julia. “I don’t know very many of these people. Did Mama know all of these people?”

Laura. “Sure, honey, they worked with her at the theater and some were your father’s business friends. I’m sure you’ve heard about them.”

Julia. “No, not really. Did they talk to you about them?”

Laura. “I know most of them. Its nice they’ve come. I’ll ask them to stop by the house after and you and the boys can meet them.”

Julia. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t know what to say. I mean, it’s okay, if you want to ask them.”

Laura. “If you don’t want me to, honey, I won’t ask. I don’t want to make things sad for you.”

Julia. “No, really, it’s okay. I’m just out of it. You and Uncle Doug do whatever is best. I just don’t understand how my parents knew so many people that I didn’t know. It’s like they had their own lives apart from ours.”

Laura. “They did, honey, they had their own lives.”

Julia. “I must sound kinda stupid, huh?”

Laura. “No, not at all. You’re just upset now.”

Jack. “Is everything going okay?”

Laura. “Sure, everything is fine.”

Jack. “Well, I told them everything was covered. They were to do the best things. That was right, wasn’t it?”

Doug. “You did the right thing.”

Julia. “I think we’re supposed to go in now. The funeral people said we were supposed to sit in the right wing of the chapel, out of view of the rest of the people. It’s like they think it’s a shame for someone to see us crying. How stupid. Why do we let these people bury our families? They don’t have the least sense of the nature of death and grief. I think they’re plastic or something.”

Laura. “Maybe. Jack said they were so smooth and quiet that you didn’t know what they were doing about the funeral until they have one. Then you can’t imagine why they did it. It was just a total misunderstanding about life, like no one knew they were burying dead bodies.”

Julia. “Dad wouldn’t have liked this. He would have yelled at them. He might sit up in his casket at any time and say he’s dead and everyone should cry and then go out and have a big drinking party. Mom wanted to be cremated and she wanted us to use her ashes as fertilizer for her flowers, remember? How did all of this service happen anyway?”

Laura. “You heard Jack, he told them to take care of everything. He said he just took the full package.”

Julia. “He’s such a dipshit. He never gives five minutes thought to anything.”

Laura. “Is it okay that Doug and I asked Reverend Raddock to handle the ceremonies. Your Mom and Dad knew him. I didn’t know who else to ask.”

Julia. “He’s okay, I guess. He seemed nice enough. We never went to church. Mom used to take us to Catholic Mass when we were little. I guess we could have asked a priest, but I don’t know whether they would have buried Dad.”

Laura. “You know, Raddock is from some reformed church. I think he used to be Methodist. The church where he is pastor is in a big shopping center. The building used to be a department store. They say he has a big choir and that thousands of people go to his church two or three days a week. Some Catholics too, I suppose.”

Julia. “ Mom might have liked the music. It’s probably better than the tape they are playing right now. Do you think anyone has every gotten out of their coffin and turned off that stuff?”

Laura. “Well, I don’t know. That’s a thought.”

The chapel is almost full. People go look into the coffins and then go back to their seats. There are about fifty sprays of flowers around the two coffins and the air is full of the smell of flowers. You can hear the air conditioning blowing near the ceiling. It’s too cold to be comfortable. Two of the funeral people go to the coffins and close them.

Reverend Raddock, three men and one woman walk slowly to the stage in front of the altar and behind the coffins. They take their seats slowly.

Doug says to Laura. “ I hope that’s the choir.”

Laura. “You know it isn’t.”

Doug. “Well this is going to be a long service, isn’t it?”

Laura. “Shh.”

One of the preachers rises from his chair and walks slowly to the pulpit. He clips a small microphone to his lapel and opens a book to a place that he has marked with a ribbon.

1st Preacher. “This is a reading from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 Verses 14 through 20.

And I know this, that whatever God does is final – nothing can be added or taken from it; God’s purpose in this is that man should fear the all-powerful God.

Whatever is, has been long ago, and whatever is going to be has been before; God brings to pass again what was distant past and disappeared.

Moreover, I notice that throughout the earth justice is giving way to crime and even the police courts are corrupt. I said to myself, ‘In due season God will judge everything man does, both good and bad.’

And then I realized that God is letting the world go its sinful way so that he can test mankind, and so that men themselves will see that they are no better than the beasts.

For men and animals both breathe the same air and both die. So mankind has no real advantage over the beasts; what an absurdity!

All go to one place – the dust from which they came and to which they must return.

The 1st preacher returns to his seat and a man with a strong voice starts to sing from somewhere behind the stage. He is clear but his voice is fed through the speaker system and comes out of the ceiling with a slight echo. He sings an arrangement by Martin Luther for the Burial of the Dead:

God is our hope and Strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will we not fear though the earth be moved,
and though the hills be carried into the mist of the sea;

Though the waters thereof rage and swell, and though
the mountains shake at the tempest of the same.

There is a river the streams whereof make glad the city of
God; the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most Highest.

Julia to Laura: “More of Jack’s package deal?”

Laura. “I like it. He has a good voice.”

Julia. “Dad would have loved it. It fits right in with his Dr. Hook records.”

Laura. “Shh.”

The second preacher goes to the pulpit.

Second Preacher. “This reading is from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 5, Verses 1 through 8.

For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down – when we die and leave these bodies – we will have wonderful new bodies in heaven, homes that will be ours forever, made for us by God himself, and not by human hands. How weary we grow of our present bodies. That is why we look forward eagerly to the day when we shall put on new clothes. For we shall not be merely spirits without bodies. These earthly bodies make us groan and sigh, but we wouldn’t like to think of dying and having no bodies at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will, as it were, be swallowed up by everlasting life. That is what God has prepared for us and as a guarantee, he has given us his Holy Spirit.

While the second preacher is reading Billy is playing with a rubber band and a pencil. He is pretending to shoot the rubberband at Reverend Raddock.

Jack. “Billy, stop it. Put that rubberband in your pocket.”

Billy. “I don’t have to. You’re not my father.”

Laura. “Shh.”

At this point attention shifts to a private conversation that begins between Doug, Bob’s brother-in-law and Henry, Bob’s cousin. The service continues in the background parallel to the private conversation.

Second Preacher. “Let us pray. Almighty God, maker of all things, creator of mankind, just and merciful king, bring your comfort to these bereaved children and brothers and sisters and friends of Bob and Carolyn. Give them the strength to accept your will and use this passage from mortal life to your eternal peace as a reminder to be always faithful and full of hope. Let us who weep here turn our lives to your service knowing that we never know when our time will come. Bless these people, and especially the children of Bob and Carolyn, and grant Bob and Carolyn passage into your heavenly kingdom. Give us understanding of this and guide us in faith and love and restore our lives so that we may return to the world and show that death, even unexpected death, is a victory and not an end of a christian life. In the name of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.”

Some say “Amen” after the preacher.

Henry says to Doug. “This is pretty awful isn’t it? Do you suppose Bob really knew these preachers?”

Doug. “I think Bob sold them the department store. Based on what they are saying I don’t think they knew him very well.”

The Reverend Raddock walks to the pulpit and begins his sermon while Henry and Doug are talking.

Raddock. “My dear friends, I knew Bob and Carolyn well. We have talked many times and they told me much about themselves and about their wonderful children. They were loving parents and they were happily married for twenty-one years. We will miss them very much. It is always hard to bury a loved one and it is especially hard to bury someone who has been taken before his time. It reminds me of the story of Lasarus whom our Lord raised from the dead. He had died before his time and he was buried and his body had begun to decay. Jesus came to him and called to him to come out of his tomb and Lasarus was raised from the dead. By our faith we know that is what Jesus will do for Bob and Carolyn. Unlike Lasarus who died again, Jesus will raise up Bob and Carolyn to live an eternal life with him in heaven. That is the essence of our faith and that, I am sure, is what Bob and Carolyn believed before they died.

How sad it is for me sometimes to have to bury people who do not have the faith. I hardly know what to say. The prospect of an eternity without the beloved savior in that abyss of darkness without the hope of the resurrection and the glory that is God’s is too much for any man to face. I know there are many good people who are not Christians, who live their lives without the church and the fellowship of true believers. As good as these people are they do not inherit the kingdom that Jesus has prepared for us. I know Bob and Carolyn were not among the unbelievers. They were among God’s chosen people. It is clear that in those last hours that they lived buried in that rubble they must have turned toward God, as all of us do, and given themselves over to his loving care. God must have talked to them and strengthened their faith. That faith, according to St. Paul, is all that is necessary to assure salvation. After all, who in his lifetime is worthy of God by any act he might do? It is by faith alone that we are saved. When a man and a woman create a family, and nurture it, and love it, and love each other, what other evidence do we need that they were among us, the chosen. So, now I would like would like for you to join with me in a prayer to almighty God.

Almighty God receive the souls of your faithful servants, Bob and Carolyn, into your heavenly kingdom and on the last day raise up their bodies from the dead and carry them with you to your kingdom in heaven. Give us the faith of Peter and Paul, your martyrs, to rejoice that they could die with your name on their lips. Let the children and the brothers and sisters of the departed be strengthened in their faith and be kept safe from any doubts of your justice and mercy. Comfort the friends of the departed and hold them in your hands so that they may claim your victory when their hour comes. In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Reverend Raddock returns to his seat and the fourth Preacher rises and goes to the pulpit.

Henry. “I guess they think everyone here is a Christian?”

Doug. “Yes, I guess so. When Raddock said that he didn’t know what to say whenever he buried a non-believer I was hoping he was talking about Bob.”

Henry. “ He must have decided to assign some faith to Bob so he could preach the sermon he knew. I remember a story about a man who was buried by a fundamentalist preacher and the dead man had been a really bad guy. The preacher couldn’t think of anything to say so the dead guy’s nephew got up and said, ‘I knew his brother and he was worse.”

Doug. “ I would have liked that service. It was probably real short.”

Fourth Preacher. “The family has asked me to read a poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay. Before I begin the reading I would like to say some things about the meaning of this Christian Service. Everyone must someday face the hour of his death, as have Bob and Carolyn. We are never prepared. No ritual, no ceremony, no amount of consolation from another will make that hour easier or the passage to eternal life more certain. You die alone, with or without your faith. We Christians have a faith in God and a hope in the resurrection and in the life of the world to come. We have seen the prefigurement of this future life in the story of Lasarus and we have heard the good news of our new bodies from our brother Paul. Now we are witnesses of the faith of these departed souls and we are certain they will rise again and join with other Christians in God’s heavenly kingdom. That is why we have this service; to be witnesses and to strengthen our hope in the resurrection. Now let me turn to the Poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in
the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter,
the love,
They are gone. they are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and
curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses
in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Isn’t that lovely? May Bob and Carolyn rest in peace.”

The fourth preacher returns to his seat. The fifth preacher goes to the pulpit and begins to read the list of survivors and to give directions to the grave site. Doug and Henry resume their conversation while this preacher is talking in the background.

Henry. “I wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to let the family bury their people in the back yard. Somehow it seems to me to be more natural and humane. I think the participation in the physical act of digging a big hole and dropping the body into it and covering it with dirt would have a positive effect on the family. You know, they would work out their anger. They would rid themselves of the canned philosophies we’ve all gotten from a bunch of European radicals loose with a German press.”

Doug. “ You’re not going to be too popular at the store-front church.”

Henry. “I know, but I’m damned tired of these pump-up guys and their simple faith notions.”

Doug. “Well it does convert some basic human instincts, like believing in God, into a performance and a social gathering so that people can dismiss it. You know, it’s like the high school girl who asked the man at her parents dinner party what he did. He responded by saying that he studied biology and she says, ‘Oh, I had that last semester.’ It’s as if learning is somehow a passage through a classroom. I suppose when people go to church they feel the same way, like they are attending class, getting the God packet.”

Fifth preacher. “Bob and Carolyn Miller are survived by two sons and a daughter, Jack Miller, William Miller and Julia Miller. Also, Bob’s sister Laura Ball and her husband, Douglas Ball and Carolyn’s Sisters, Mary Baker and Judith Henson. The family wants to thank all of you here for your kindness and for the flowers. A reception for those of you who want to visit with the family will be held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ball. The limousines will leave for Forest Park Cemetery from the front of the chapel immediately after this service. Please remain in your seats until the pall bearers have passed your pews, then follow them out to your cars and form a line behind the limousines.

Doug and Henry follow the people out of the chapel and they continue to talk on the way to Doug’s car and in the car on the way to the cemetery.

Act Two:Scene Two – Doug’s Car

Henry. “How will we escape this social programming. We’re just picking on religion now because of the funeral, but everything of value in our lives is bundled into some sort of half-baked theory of reality. Do you remember a book called, Zen and The Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance ?

Doug. “No, I don’t think so.”

Henry. “Well, in that book the author says there are two basic kinds of people in the world; those who use reason and science to manage their lives; and those who use art and intuition. Both types use the products of the other to survive, and neither seems to be able to unbundle the products it gets from the other. It’s a bazaar world of symbiotic relationships. He is so right about our society. It is dominated by technology, and yet, hopelessly trapped in a profound ignorance of essential things, whether they are gadgets or human behavior. He tries hard in the book to use the philosophical tools of the 19th century to pry apart these bundled realities. He wants individuals to be made whole by knowledge of both technology and the art of living. But it doesn’t work, because it’s still a formula, a method, a philosophy. It requires discretion and the immediate perception of total reality. In the end he just drives you back to Joseph Campbell’s Myths and makes you happy to be a middle-aged cynic.”

Doug. “Do you think the preacher who read the poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay knew what he was going to read?”

Henry. “I doubt it. I almost choked when he said how lovely it was. He just had no idea how far away her thoughts were from the kind of faith he was talking about.”

Doug. “Preachers probable don’t believe their own scripts any more than the rest of us. Don’t you think they just have a more polite kind of hustle than a banker or a bartender?

Henry. “ Sure. Isn’t everyone praying that God won’t get him; preachers, bankers, and bartenders? They just wrap that fear in the books of their trades.”

Doug. “Maybe it would be better if we eliminated books and writing and stripped ourselves down to our biological inheritance and our spoken languages. We would still have our myths, but perhaps they would flower without the straight jacket of abstractions. We could reorder society as easily as sending out for pizza.”

Henry. “What a hue and a cry we would hear from the education drummers. Have you seen that billboard on 101 that says, ‘Stop Illiteracy – Read.’ Do you suppose the ad agency that created that sign could think? It probably never occurred to them that there was a difference between reading and teaching.”

Doug. “See, what difference would it make if the written word disappeared, it’s not being used to communicate anyway.”

Henry. “You know, I remember seeing Carolyn dance. She was playing Juliet in a ballet based on Romeo and Juliet. There were no words, yet I was amazed that everything was communicated as clearly through dancing as I had heard it in the play. I suppose if I had not known the words of the play before I saw the ballet it would have been difficult to understand, but I’m not 100% sure of that. People, especially dancers, say things with their bodies more clearly than with words.”

Doug. “Understanding by dance must come from the flow of our lives as we consume and reproduce.”

Henry. “Imagine this. Today instead of burying Bob and Carolyn with this rather strange ceremony. Instead of letting strangers lead us from place to place in their black suits and black limousines, we took charge. We took their bodies to Bob’s and Carolyns’s house and laid them out on sheets on the dining room table. Then we would eat and drink and talk. Some of Carolyn’s friends could come and dance and lead us out of the house into the back yard. There we could take turns digging a huge hole. Everyone could cry and say whatever they felt. Then we could go into the house and get the bodies and carry them out to the yard and lower them slowly into the hole we had dug. Then everyone could go back inside and eat and drink some more. After a little while we could go to the back door and call out, ‘Bob and Carolyn, come out.’ Then we would wait, because we wouldn’t know whether they would come out. If they didn’t come after an hour, we could all go back outside and shovel the dirt into the hole until there was a mound. Carolyn’s friends could dance around the mound and we could all throw wild flowers on it. Then we could all hug each other, go inside, and forget the ceremony entirely. It would be like the way a sunset fades into a cold black sky full of bright stars.”

Doug. “I would like that.”

Henry. “Next time, when I die.”

Doug. “Well, we’re here. Isn’t it amazing how they place all of those flowers around the grave before everyone arrives. And look, the whole place has green carpet and there is no sign of dirt anywhere. Maybe we’re just going to store Bob and Carolyn here?”

Henry. “There was probably a duplicate set of flowers. Laura said Jack took the full package deal.”

The Deaths of Ananias and Sapphira

A man dressed as deacon in a white robe with a gold sash across his chest walks to the podium and says:
This is a reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 5.

” Another man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira likewise sold a piece of property. With the connivance of his wife he put aside a part of the proceeds for himself; the rest he took and laid at the feet of the apostles. Peter exclaimed: “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart so as to make you lie to the Holy Spirit and keep for yourself some of the proceeds from that field? Was it not yours so long as it remained unsold? Even when you sold it, was not the money still yours? How could you ever concoct such a scheme? You have lied not to men but to God! At the sound of those words, Ananias fell dead. Great fear came upon all who heard of it. Some of the young men came forward, wrapped up the body, and carried it out for burial. Three hours later Ananias’ wife came in, unaware of what had happened. Peter said to her, ‘Tell me, did you sell that piece of property for such and such an amount? ‘ She answered, ‘Yes, that was the sum.’ Peter replied, ‘ How could you two scheme to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? The footsteps of the men who have just buried your husband can be heard at the door. They stand ready to carry you out too.’ With that she fell dead at his feet. The young men came in, found her dead, and carried her out for burial beside her husband. Great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard of it. ”

The man closes his bible and leaves.

Characters:
Simon Bar-Jona
John
Joseph
Jacob, a Captain
Alexander, an officer of the Senate
Caiaphas, an officer of the Council
Annas, a High Priest
Gamaliel, a Pharisee
Two young men
Two guards
Sadducees

Act 1

Scene 1: Simon’s House

Joseph. A Captain from the Council came to my house this morning and asked about Ananias and Sapphira.

Simon. What did you tell him?

Joseph. Just that they were dead and that your young men had buried them.

Simon. Nothing else?

Joseph. I didn’t know anything else. I wasn’t there. I didn’t even know Ananias or his wife that well. We only talked once, after I gave you the money for my property. Ananias just wanted to know if I had given you all of the money from the sale of my property. I said that I had. I didn’t see them again. You said they died and that your young men buried them outside. What else do I know? What else could I have told the Captain?

Simon. Nothing else, you knew nothing else. What did the Captain say?

Joseph. He wanted to know about you and about your group. He asked if you required everyone in your group to give up their property and, if they did not, what you did to them.

Simon. What did you answer?

Joseph. I said I didn’t know. I was new to the group. I gave my money and it was voluntary. We helped each other so that nobody did without what they needed. I didn’t know about the others. I was shaking when I was talking with him. I was afraid.

Simon. You did the right thing . We’re all afraid. We try to follow what we feel and we’re not always sure what will happen.

Joseph. Simon, I’m not comfortable here, now. I want out. I don’t care about the property. You keep the money. I haven’t seen what you’ve seen. No one has appeared to me, and I wasn’t in the room with you and John and the others when it shook. God doesn’t speak to me, Simon. I am just a simple person. I thought what you were doing was a good idea, a better way to do things, something God would bless. I didn’t know it could cost a person their life for just being cautious and reluctant like Ananias.

Simon. We have no requirement that you stay. You can leave anytime. It is voluntary. The money doesn’t matter. What you believe matters, what you do matters, nothing else matters. You know, they killed Jesus for what he said about who he was, but he came back, and we must tell his story no matter what the consequences.

Joseph. I understand, and there are many who should listen to you because what happened was unjust. What you say about his coming back from the dead must be from God. I want to believe what you believe, but it’s very hard. Do you understand? Do you know how hard it is to believe what you say. We are Jews and everything I can imagine has already been written. I don’t have any concrete notions of God and I don’t expect him to appear as a man. There is God and there is man, one is forever, one is not. I can understand that.

Simon. It’s a new age now, and I have seen more than has been written. I don’t understand it, but I believe it, and belief is enough. It is more than life itself.

Joseph. I can’t. I just can’t. I must go. Forgive me. Keep the money. It doesn’t matter.

Simon. Whatever you say, but think about what I’ve said, and if you change your mind you can come back to the group.

(Joseph exits and Jacob, the Captain, enters)

Jacob. Simon Bar-Jona?

Simon. Yes. I am Simon Bar-Jona

Jacob. I represent the Council and the Senate. I’m here to inquire about the deaths of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. What do you know about them?

Simon. They died here in this room at separate times, yesterday. Ananias died about noon and Sapphira died about three hours later.

Jacob. How did they die?

Simon. We were talking and they just fell over and died.

Jacob. Were they ill from some sickness?

Simon. They didn’t appear to be ill.

Jacob. Did they hit their head on something when they fell, like a table or a chair?

Simon. No, they both just sat down on the floor, and then they died.

Jacob. That is very strange, very strange. What did you do?

Simon. Nothing, I knew instantly that they were dead.

Jacob. How did you know?

Simon. I just knew. I could tell.

Jacob. Had you given them anything to eat or drink?

Simon. I don’t think so.

Jacob. What does that mean?

Simon. I was not here alone. John was here, too. He talked with each of them before I did.

Jacob. Who is John?

Simon. He is one of my companions.

Jacob. You work together?

Simon. In a way, we talk with people about what we’ve seen.

Jacob. Are you storytellers?

Simon. No, we tell people about Jesus, the Christ.

Jacob. You’re one of the Jesus Cultists, then.

Simon. We’re Jews, we talk about the Christ, we quote the scriptures.

Jacob. Why were Ananias and his wife here? Were they Cultists too.

Simon. Yes, but they were new in our group. I didn’t know them very well.

Jacob. What did you discuss with them?

Simon. It was about money. They had sold their property and were to give the money to us, but they had withheld some of it. John found out about it and he told me. Ananias was here to explain it to me.

Jacob. I don’t understand why they were giving you all of their money from their property sale. Were you selling them something?

Simon. In our group we hold everything in common. We take care of everyone according to their needs. They would have been taken care of, but they withheld some of their money. They were cheating the group.

Jacob. Did you kill them because of that?

Simon. I didn’t kill them. We didn’t kill them. They were killed by their sins.

Jacob. Their sins? Let me see if I understand this; they didn’t give all of their money to your group, that was a sin, and the sin killed them?

Simon. That’s not exactly right. They had made a commitment they did not keep and then they tried to hide what they had done from us. They did not trust us and they cheated and lied about what they had done.

Jacob. If those kinds of sins killed, we would all be dead. I think someone must have helped the sins do the job. Don’t you think so?

Simon. Yes, it was God.

Jacob. It was God? How did God do it, Simon?

Simon. I don’t know.

Jacob. Try to think of something.

Simon. I don’t know. His ways are mysterious.

Jacob. Did you help God, Simon?

Simon. God is enough by himself. He doesn’t require my help in that way.

Jacob. Did you give them poison, Simon?

Simon. I gave them nothing. They were killed by their sins.

Jacob. I don’t believe you Simon. Your group is – how should I say it?- not normal. What you do is very strange among us Jews. We’re going to investigate this very carefully. Don’t leave town. Tell your friends not to leave town. This matter is not closed. I must report what you have said to the High Priest. You will hear from me again.

(Jacob exits)

Scene Two: Solomon’s Portico

Simon and John and their young men are meeting.

John. What do the Sadducees want from us?

Simon. They want to be rid of us.

John. If they have their way there will be no other kind of Jew but Sadducee. No Christ, ever.

Simon. It doesn’t make any difference now, John. Our problem is the Captain and the High Priest, Annas. The Sadducees just report us. It’s the Captain and the Annas who will get us.

John. The Captain thinks we killed Ananias and his wife, doesn’t he?

Simon. Yes.

John. What did you tell him about their deaths?

Simon. Everything.

John. About the power that killed them?

Simon. He didn’t believe that. He thinks we poisoned them because of the money.

John. How would he know?

Simon. He doesn’t, but he’s not a believer and he will never understand. Even our way of sharing goes past him. He understands authority and property and the ways of man. He doesn’t see what we see.

John. What can he do?

Simon. Maybe he’ll arrest us. Whatever happens we can handle it. Our group will support us.

Ist Young Man. Will they take us, too? We were there. We buried them. What should we do?

Simon. Stay with us. We’ll protect you. We have friends and you have done nothing but bury the dead.

2nd Young Man. I think we should leave town. I have relatives in Antioch, and we could go there. There are many people there who have not heard about the Christ and many sick people to heal.

Simon. We can’t leave. We’ve done nothing wrong. If we leave they will think we’ve done something and are trying to escape. We’ll stay here and talk to the crowds and tell them about what God has done and about the promises.

John. Simon is right. It’s safer here. Besides, we have to bring the group together again. Many are very upset about what has happened to Ananias and Sapphira.

Simon. This system we have, this way of taking care of everyone, and taking their money, and all that, it’s getting in the way of the message. I don’t know what to do. Some people think more about the security of the group than the fact that Jesus lives and that we may have to die to tell people about it.

John. We have to live as men, too. We can’t work like everyone else and still have time to spread to the news about Jesus to everyone. The community is the only way. Be practical. Ananias and his wife saw the advantage, they just didn’t understand the message.

Simon. I think most of our people don’t understand the message. I worry every day about what I’ll say and what I’ll do. Since we were in the upper room and it shook, I’ve been driven by a force I can’t understand, and there hasn’t been any light, just the memories of what he said when we were together, ” Feed my lambs.” And it’s easier to get the money for food than to teach people how to die for the truth. The food comes from the savings and the property people have accumulated out of fear of the future. If you take away their fear they convert their property and give you their money. That system is very short-lived. We need more from our followers. We need their hearts. We need them to help when there is nothing and when everything is against them.

1st Young Man. I don’t understand what you’re saying.

Simon. I know. I don’t think I understand it either. It’s just that I was there, I saw him die, and I saw him alive again. I have to find people who can understand that message.

John. They won’t be among the Sadducees.

Simon. We don’t know who they will be among.

Alexander and Caiaphas, officers of the Council and the Senate, come into the Portico. They approach Simon’s group.

Alexander. Are you men with the Jesus Cultists?

Simon. We are.

Caiaphas. Are you the ones responsible for the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira?

Simon. No. We knew them, but we were not responsible for their deaths. They died as a result of their sins.

Alexander. We have heard your story already from the Captain. It does not interest us. We have orders to arrest all of you. Do not cause us to call for armed guards. Just come peacefully and no harm will come to you. You are only under investigation, but the Captain has reason to believe you will leave town, so we must detain you.

Simon. We will go peacefully. There is no need for armed guards. We have no fear of what you will do.

John. You have no right to arrest us. We did nothing.

Caiaphas. Two people are dead, and you have their money, and you say you did nothing wrong?

Simon. We have nothing else to say. Nothing, right John?

Alexander. Your leader wants you all to be quiet, like Ananias and his wife are now quiet.

The Jesus Cultists are led away by the officers.

Scene 3: The Council Chambers

A group of Sadducees and the High Priest, Annas and a Pharisee, Gamaliel are meeting.

Sadducee. They are corrupting the faith. They blame us for Jesus’s death. They say that Jesus is both Christ and God, and that he is alive, come back from the dead. They are fanatics. Every beggar and bum in town follows them around like they were the last hope for mankind.

Annas. People follow them because they feed them. If you fed your people they would follow you, too. You wouldn’t have to send guards to collect money for the synagogue.

Sadducee. It’s in the law. People have to be responsible. Their using everyone’s saving and property to feed their group. It won’t last. They’re fanatics and they don’t care about the future. They think the world is going to end and that Jesus is going to punish us and raise them from the dead. It’s the most hair-brain group we’ve ever had. They’re stupid, they stink, and they have no economic sense at all.

Annas. We can break them up now, before they do any more harm. I think we Jews are just plagued with one insane prophet after another because we’re always under occupation and our people become desperate. The Romans tax them, we tax them. There’s very little opportunity for anyone to prosper. Any movement or system that holds hope for the poor will attract attention and get a following. Why not Jesus?

Sadducee. We can use the deaths of Ananias and his wife to end this Cult now. They must have killed them. The Captain says that there was no natural cause for the deaths. He thinks they poisoned both of them. They had their young men bury the bodies immediately, before anyone was told, and before any officers could see them. I’ll bet you they poisoned them. I’ll bet it was murder.

Annas. That would be enough to end this thing once and for all.

Gamaliel. (Quietly and aside) Annas, can we speak privately. Will you tell the others to leave.

Annas. Yes, of course. Gentlemen, we’ve discussed this matter enough. We know what we must do. We’ll keep you informed. Please leave us now.

Sadducee. Of course, Your Eminence, whatever you say.

Gamaliel. Annas, you and I have seen many of these Cults. They all die of neglect eventually because they’re built on personalities. When the personalities die, the Cult dies. This Jesus Cult will go away, too. He’s dead and his followers are poor un-educated people who will soon run out of resources when they use up their money. We can’t prove this charge of murder against them because we don’t really know why these people died. No one saw anyone poison them or injure them in anyway. I know it smells, but is it really worth it. Do we really need another dead Cult leader for the masses to proclaim that he also has arisen from the dead and has the power of God? I think not. Why not just let them go. Maybe they’ll kill each other off over the food when their money runs out.

Annas. You make good sense. We’ll punish them and then let them go. They’ll soon tire of this street preaching and go back to their jobs. If they killed poor old Ananias and wife because they didn’t turn in all of their money, what will happen when their group goes broke? A good beating should inspire them to leave as soon as possible.

Gamaliel. Maybe they’ll go to another town and it won’t be our problem. Maybe God will join them and what we do won’t make any difference.

Scene 4: The Jail

John. The guard, Stephen, gave me a note. It says we are to be released, but that we are to be chastised first.

1st Young Man. Why? Why are they going to beat us? I did nothing wrong. I did what I was told. Simon, you tell them not to include us. Please.

Simon. Shutup. Don’t be such a coward. They beat Jesus and then they crucified him. You can take a little beating. If we act weak and give up because of a little pain how can you expect anyone to believe us? Answer me!

1st Young Man. I don’t care. You told us that Jesus cried when they beat him and that he asked why God had forsaken him when he was on the cross. You said that you even denied that you knew him because you were afraid they would arrest you and beat you, too. I’m sorry, I don’t want to be beaten.

Simon. I’m sorry too. Since we have received the power, I’ve forgotten about fear and doubt. But I can’t help you here because the power has nothing to do with our suffering. It’s not magic to use to avoid the evil men do. It’s just the will to stand up for what you believe is right.

John. They may not beat us. These guards are ordinary poor men. They are not Sadducees. They know the difference between the innocent and the guilty. They know when what they must do is a political act.

Simon. These guards may not think we are innocent. Ananias and Sapphira are dead, and we have their money. Their relatives are upset by the losses, first of their kin, then of their property. The guards know this, and they also know that we will not be charged with murder because there is no proof that we murdered them. I think that we will not find a light hand on the handle of any guard’s whip.

John. Why? Why must we always suffer because the people cannot see what has changed.

Simon. If we suffer, they may see the change.

2nd Young Man. They will not see it. They will die with what they know. Only those who have nothing to lose will see the change. They will follow you because neither the High Priest, the Sadducess, nor the Pharisees have anything for these lost people. They are grist for the mill.

Simon. If you are right then these are desperate times, since we offer nothing but hope in exchange for their money, their hearts, and sometimes their lives.

John. Hope? Is that what the power is all about, Simon?

Simon. More. You have to believe what you can’t believe before you have hope. Ananias and Sapphira are dead, and we are guilty of watching them die, and we are the cause of their deaths because we asked them to live up to their promise, and they couldn’t do it. We’ve made life too simple, like God, from whom you cannot hide. Ananias thought he had made a good financial deal with us, a life of security in a community, in exchange for some money. Since it was a financial deal he and Sapphira had taken their own measure of its worth and their contribution, and, in the old way of the world, that did not look like sin, just good sense. I think that the moment they realized that the only thing we wanted was their honest commitment, and that we did not care about anybody’s money, their hearts failed, and they died. Did God do it? No. Did we do it. No. When they saw the truth, their lives were lost. The only difference between them and us is that we continue to breathe.

Guard. Be quiet and listen. Each of you will be taken to the courtyard and you will receive forty lashes. Then you will be released. We suggest that you find another place to spread your lies. Also, the money you have taken from these poor people is to be returned to their families. We don’t need your kind in our town. We have laws, and we respect people’s property and their rights. We don’t talk against Moses and God. You, young man, you go first.

Act 2

Change of Characters

Sam
John
Joe
Jack, the Sheriff
Alex, the County Prosecutor
Charlie, the District Court Judge
Bill, Foreman of the Grand Jury
Marion, the District Attorney
Two Guys
Two Deputies
Members of Chamber of Commerce

Scene 1: Sam’s House

Joe. The Sheriff, Jack Johnson, came to my house this morning and asked about Tony and Sarah.

Sam. What did you tell him?

Joe. Jist that they died and that your guys had buried them in the yard about a month ago.

Sam. Nothin else?

Joe. I didn’t know nothin else. I wasn’t there. I didn’t even know Tony and Sarah that well. We only talked once, after I gave you the money for my property. Tony just wanted to know if I had given you all my money from the sale of the property. I said I had. I didn’t see them again. Man, you said they died and your guys buried them outside. What else do I know. What else could I’ve told the Sheriff?

Sam. Nothin else, you knew nothin else. What’d he say?

Joe. He wanted to know about you and about your group. He asked if you made everyone in your group give up their property and, if they didn’t give it up, what you did to them?

Sam. Well, What’d you say?

Joe. I said I didn’t know. I was new to the group. I gave my money because I wanted to. We helped each other so that nobody did without. I told him I didn’t know about the others. Man, I was fuckin shaking when I was talking to him. I thought I was gonna shit.

Sam. Hey man. it’s okay. We’re all scared. We try to follow what we feel and we don’t always know what’ll happen.

Joe. Hey, I’m not sure, man. You know the group oughta be for me, but I just don’t feel it. After all this shit, I think I want out. You keep the money, man. It don’t mean nothin. You go on and keep it, hear. I ain’t seen it like you have. Man, you and John were there when the place shook. Hey, I was cuttin meat, God didn’t say nothin to me. I’m just a nobody, man. I don’t want you to get me wrong, I thought what you and John did was great, a lot fuckin better way than the preachers here do it. But I didn’t know it could cost a person their life for just hangin back a little.

Sam. It okay, man. You can leave anytime. It’s your deal. Noboby’s makin you stay. The money doesn’t matter. What you think matters, what you do matters, nothing else matters. You know, they fuckin killed Jesus for who he was, but he came back. He fuckin came back. We can’t let that go, man. It don’t matter what happens to us.

Joe. I hear you. Every son-bitch ought to listen to you because what happened to Jesus, man, was not right. You say he’s come back from the dead. Man, that’s strong. I want to believe it, but shit, it’s hard. You understand, don’t you? You know how hard it is to believe what you say. We been around and seen it all. I don’t have no notions about God and I don’t expect him to appear like you and me. I mean, I think there’s a God, but not like us. He’s big and forever, not like me, a nobody. You get it?

Sam. Everything you think you know is shit. I don’t understand what’s happenin, but I believe it. It’s more than just living.

Joe. I can’t. I just can’t. I gotta split. Friends, okay? Keep the money. It doesn’t matter.

Sam. Whatever you say, but don’t fuck up, man. If you change your mind you can come back to the group any time.

(Joe exits and Jack, the Sheriff, enters)

Jack. Sam Jones?

Sam. That’s me. I’m Sam Jones.

Jack. I Sheriff Johnson and I want to ask you some questions about the deaths of Tony and Sarah. You know anything about what happened?

Sam. They just died.

Jack. You saw it?

Sam. Yeah, it was here in this room. We were just talking and they fell over dead.

Jack. Both of them?

Sam. Yeah, but not at the same time. Tony died about noon, and Sarah died about three hours later.

Jack. Were they sick?

Sam. They didn’t seem sick.

Jack. Did they hit their head on something when they fell, like a table or a chair?

Sam. No, they both just sort-of sat down on the floor and died.

Jack. That don’t make no sense. What did you do?

Sam. Nothing, I knew they were dead right away.

Jack. How did you know?

Sam. I just knew. I could tell.

Jack. Had you given them anything to eat or drink?

Sam. I don’t think so.

Jack. What does that mean?

Sam. I wasn’t by myself. John was here, too. He talked with both of them before I did.

Jack. Who’s John?

Sam. He is one of my buddies.

Jack. You work together?

Sam. In a way, we talk with the people about what we’ve seen.

Jack. You weirdos or something?

Sam. No, we tell people about Jesus, about what we seen him do and about what he tells us.

Jack. You’re one of them Jesus freaks, huh?

Sam. We’re just people, we talk about what we know, we quote the bible, we’re believers.

Jack. Why were Tony and Sarah here? Were they Jesus freaks, too.

Sam. Yeah, but they were new. I didn’t know them that well.

Jack. What did you talk to them about?

Sam. Money, it was about money. They had sold their property and were supposed to give us all of the money, but they held back some of it. They didn’t tell nobody, but John found out and he told me. So we told Tony to come in and explain it to us.

Jack. Let me see if I got this right. Tony and Sarah were supposed to give you all of their money from their property sale. Were you selling them something?

Sam. Naw, we’re all communists. The group owns everything. We take care of everyone according to what they need. They would’ve been taken care of, but they held back. They cheated us.

Jack. Did you kill them because of that?

Sam. I didn’t kill them. We didn’t kill them. They were killed by God because of their sin.

Jack. Their sin? Let me see if I understand this; they didn’t give all of their money to you bunch of Jesus-freak-communists and that was a sin, and the sin killed them?

Sam. That’s not exactly right. They made a commitment to us and they didn’t keep it. They tried to hide what they had done from us. They didn’t trust us and they cheated and lied about what they had done. They didn’t know it was really God they had cheated.

Jack. If that kind of sin killed, we’d all be dead. I think someone must have helped the sin do the job. Don’t you think so?

Sam. Yeah, it was an angel of God like with Lot.

Jack. It was an angel of God? How did he do it, Sam?

Sam. I don’t know.

Jack. Try to think of something.

Sam. I don’t know. His ways are mysterious.

Jack. Did you help God, Sam?

Sam. God is enough by himself. He doesn’t need help. Ain’t you read that?

Jack. Did you give them poison, Sam?

Sam. Didn’t give them nothin. They were killed by God because of their sin.

Jack. Sam, Sam, you don’t expect me to believe that shit, do you? You Jesus freaks are – how should I say it?- abnormal. What you do don’t fit here in Liberty County. We’re going to investigate this very carefully. You and your freaks best not leave town. You tell all of them to be stayin close by. This shit’s not over by a long shot. You’ll be hearin from me again.

(Jack exits)

Scene Two: Flea Market near New Caney

Sam and John and their guys are meeting.

John. What do the Chamber Members want from us?

Sam. They want to be rid of us.

John. If they have their way there won’t be no street preachers. Only Jesus anybody’s gonna know is gonna be the one approved by the Chamber of Commerce. He ain’t gonna be risen from the dead during the work week.

Sam. It don’t make any difference now, John. Our problem is that Jack Sheriff and the District Attorney. The Chamber Members just report us. It’s the Sheriff and the District Attorney who’ll get our asses.

John. They think we fuckin killed Tony and his wife, don’t they?

Sam. Yeah.

John. What did you tell him about their deaths?

Sam. Everything.

John. About the angel that killed them?

Sam. He didn’t believe that. He thinks we poisoned them because of the money.

John. How would he know?

Sam. He doesn’t, but he’s not a believer and he’ll never understand. He hates communists. Sharing just goes past him. He understands authority and property and the capitalist ways. He doesn’t see what we see.

John. What can he do?

Sam. Maybe he’ll arrest us. Whatever happens we can handle it. Our group will support us.

Ist Guy. Will they get us, too? We were there. We buried them. What do you think we oughta do?

Sam. Stay with us. We’ll look after you. We got friends and you ain’t done nothin but bury the dead.

2nd Guy. I think we oughta split. I got relatives in Louisiana. We could go there. There’s lots of people there who talk to Jesus, and they still believe in healin sick people.

Sam. Man, we can’t leave. We ain’t done nothin wrong. If we leave they’ll think we done somethin and we’re tryin to get away. Let’s just stay here and talk to the people at the Flea Market and tell them about Jesus and about the promises.

John. Sam’s right. It’s safer here. Besides, we gotta get everyone together again. They’re shook-up about what happened to Tony and Sarah.

Sam. This communist system we have, this way of taking care of everyone, and taking their money, and all that, it’s getting in the way of the message. I don’t know what to do. Some people think more about the security of the group than the fact that Jesus lives and that we might have to die to tell people about it.

John. We gotta to live, too. We can’t work and still have time to spread to the news about Jesus to everyone. Communism is the only way. Be practical. Tony and his wife saw the advantage, they just didn’t get the big picture.

Sam. I think most of our people don’t get the big picture. I worry every day about what I’ll say and what I’ll do. Since we were in the apartment and it shook, I’ve been driven by something I can’t understand and it’s dark. I jist got the memories of what he said when we were together, “ Take care of my people.” And it’s easier to get the money for food than to teach people how to die for the truth. The food comes from what people already got and they got it out of fear of the future. When we take away their fear they give us their money. That system is very short-lived. We need more from our people. We need their hearts. We need them to help when there is nothing and when everything is against them.

1st Guy. I don’t get it.

Sam. I know. I don’t think I get it either. It’s just that I was there, I saw him die, and I saw him alive again. I have to find people who can understand what I’m sayin.

John. They won’t be among the Chamber Members.

Sam. We don’t know where they’ll be.

Alex and Charlie, officers of the Court, come into the Flea Market. They approach Sam’s group.

Alex. Are you men with that Jesus bunch?

Sam. Who wants to know?

Charlie. Are you the ones responsible for the deaths of Tony and Sarah?

Sam. No. We knew them, but we didn’t have nothin to do with their deaths. They died because they were sinners.

Alex. We’ve heard your story already from the Sheriff. It doesn’t interest us. We have issued orders to arrest all of you. Don’t cause us to call for armed deputies. Just come peacefully and nothing violent will happen to you. You are only under investigation, but we have reason to believe you’ll leave town, so we had to order your arrests.

Sam. We don’t want no trouble. There’s no need for armed deputies. We ain’t scared of what you’ll do to us.

John. You ain’t got no right to arrest us. We didn’t do nothin.

Charlie. Two people are dead! You got their money and you say you didn’t do nothing?

Sam. We ‘re not sayin anything else. Right, John?

Alex. Your leader wants you all to be quiet, like Tony and Sarah are quiet.

The Jesus Freaks are led away by the officers.

Scene 3: The Council Chambers

A group of Chamber Members and the Foreman of the Grand Jury, Bill, and the District Attorney, Marion, are meeting.

Chamber Member. These guys are just a bunch of communists. They aren’t real Christians. They blame us for everything that’s wrong in the world, even Jesus being killed by the Jews. They’re a bunch of whackos. They say that Jesus is alive right now and they talk to him, They’re fanatics. Every street bum in town follows them around like they were the last hope for mankind.

Bill. People follow them because they feed them. If you fed those homeless winos they’d follow you, too. You wouldn’t have to send deputies to keep them from hangin out in front of your store.

Chamber Member. It’s in the law. People have to be responsible. They can’t drink and preach on the street with no license. It’s bad for business. Besides, their using everyone’s saving and property to feed their group. It won’t last. They’re fanatics and they don’t care about our future. They think the world is going to end and that Jesus is going to punish us and raise them from the dead to rule over everything. It’s the most hair-brain group we’ve ever had. They’re stupid, they stink, and they have no economic sense at all.

Bill. We can break them up now, before they do any more harm. I think we’re just plagued with one insane religious fanatic after another because times are bad for people and they become desperate. The Feds tax them, the State taxes them, we tax them. There’s very little good paying work for anyone. Any movement or group that the holds out hope for the poor will attract attention and get a following. Why not these Jesus freaks?

Chamber Member. Can you use the deaths of Tony and his wife to get rid of this bunch of communists? They must have killed them. The Sheriff says that there was no natural cause for the deaths. He thinks they poisoned both of them. They had their young guys bury the bodies immediately, before anyone was told, and before any officers could see them. I’ll bet you they poisoned them. I’ll bet it was murder.

Bill. That sure would be enough to end this thing once and for all.

Marion. (Quietly and aside) Bill, can we speak privately. Will you tell the others to leave.

Bill. Yes, of course. Gentlemen, we’ve discussed this stuff enough. We know what we gotta do. We’ll keep you informed. Hey, let Marion and I take care of this mess.

Chamber Member. Of course, Bill, whatever you say.

Marion. Bill, you and I have seen dozens of these Cults. They all die of neglect eventually because they’re built on personalities. When the personalities die, the Cult dies. This Jesus Cult will go away, too. They aren’t like a real church, their followers are poor un-educated people who will soon run out of resources when they use up their money. We can’t prove this murder charge against them because we don’t really know why these people died. No one saw anyone poison them or injure them in anyway. I know it smells, but is it really worth it. Do we really need all this publicity and the huge expense of a trial when the neither the City nor the State can pay their bills now. I can’t win this thing and, hell, they’ll get the ACLU and a bunch of those Jew lawyers from New York and be all over us. I think we ought to handle this privately at the Jail. After a little understanding about our City has been put on them, we’ll let them go. Maybe they’ll kill each other off over the lack of food when their money runs out.

Bill. You make good sense. We’ll kick their asses a little and then let’em go. They’ll get tired of this street preaching and go back to their jobs. If they killed poor old Tony and wife because they didn’t turn in all of their money, what will happen when their group goes broke? A good beating should inspire them to leave as soon as possible.

Marion. Maybe they’ll go to another town and it won’t be our problem. Maybe their God and his angel will join them and what we do won’t make any difference.

Scene 4: The Jail

John. That deputy, Steve, gave me a note. It says we are to be released, but they gonna teach us a lesson first.

1st Guy. Why? Why are they going to beat us? We didn’t do nothin wrong. We did what we were told. Sam, you tell them not to include us. Please tell’em.

Sam. Shutup. Don’t be such a coward. They beat Jesus and then they crucified him. You can take a little beating. If we act weak and give up because of a little pain how can you expect anyone to believe us? Answer me!

1st Guy. I don’t care. You told us that Jesus cried when they beat him and that he asked why God had forsaken him when he was on the cross. You said that you even denied that you knew him because you were afraid they would arrest you and beat you, too. I’m sorry, Sam, but I don’t want to be beaten.

Sam. I’m sorry too. Since we got the power, I’ve forgotten all about fear and doubt. But I can’t help you here because the power has nothing to do with our suffering. Its not magic to use to avoid the man and his shit. It’s just the will to stand up for what you believe is right.

John. They might not beat us. These deputies are just regular guys. They’re not businessmen and members of the Chamber. They know the difference between right and wrong. They know when what they must do is political.

Sam. These deputies may not think we’re innocent. Tony and Sarah are dead, and we got their money. Their relatives are upset because they lost them and because of the money and the property they’re not going to get. The deputies know this, and they also know that we ain’t gonna be charged with murder because there’s no proof that we murdered them. I think the deputies will use their sticks on us real good.

John. Why? Why do we always have to suffer because people can’t see what’s changed.

Sam. If we suffer, they may see the change.

2nd Guy. They won’t see it. They’ll die with what they know. Only those people who ain’t got nothin to lose will see the change. They follow you because neither the country nor all those big time churches have anything for these lost people. They’re just road kill.

Sam. You’re probably right. These are desperate times, since we offer nothing but hope in exchange for their money, their hearts, and sometimes their lives, and yet still they come.

John. Hope? Is that what the power is all about, Sam?

Sam. More. You have to believe what you can’t believe before you have hope. Tony and Sarah are dead and we are guilty of watching them die. We probably caused their deaths when we asked them to live up to their promise and they couldn’t do it. We made life too simple, like God, whom you can’t hide from. Tony thought he’d made a good deal with us, a life of security in a commune, in exchange for some money. Since it was a financial deal he and Sarah had figured its worth and what they paid, and, in the old way, what they held back didn’t seem like a sin, just good sense. I think that the moment they realized that the only thing we wanted was their honest soul and that we didn’t care about anybody’s money, their hearts failed, and they died. Did God do it? No. Did we do it. No. When they saw the truth, their lives were lost. The only difference between them and us is that we continue to breathe.

Deputy. Be quiet! Listen up. You’ll be taken to the showers, then you’ll be released. We suggest that you find another place to spread your lies. Also, the money you have taken from these poor people is to be returned to their families. We don’t need your kind in our City. We got laws and we respect people’s property and their rights. We don’t talk against the regular Churches. You, young guy, you go first.

A Vacation in Europe

Arrived on twenty-seventh of July. John waited patiently at the airport while the bags never came. When they finally came, Irene and Frances got them and went outside where we were not and waited while we stood on tired, tired feet and held our breaths to keep from taking in the clouds of cigarette smoke. Frankfurt, how it hurts to remember you–the pit that sucks people into Europe. Well, at least it was no worst than Chicago, our American pit.

John crammed us into his Hyundai and we were off on the Autobaun. Ah, the smell of the countryside. Beautiful wheat and corn fields covered with the thickest, smelliest cow shit I have ever been exposed to, including the feed lots south of Los Angeles. But we came to Sohren, next to Hahn Air Base and it was a welcome site. The Hotel was very neat and reasonable ($30 a night per person) and there was no more odor of sanctity from the corn fields.

We didn’t know then that The Sorhen Hotel was the best deal in Europe, except for the poor hotel in rural Poland. We left Irene and Frances at the hotel; and Nushka and I went to John’s apartment. It was a real joy to see Marian, Kevin and Stephanie. They were pleased to see us, as well. Lots of hugs and kisses and talk. We took a short nap to try to recover from the flight. Afterward, we went to dinner with Irene and Frances at the hotel. Great meal. Way too much for fat people.

Monday morning Nushka and I awoke at 4:30 A.M. It was cool and at 6:30 A.M. we walked about one mile to the Burger King for some coffee and breakfast. The woods and flowers along the streets on the base were gorgeous. Everywhere we went in Europe there were beautiful flowers and green woods.

The couch at John’s was like a rack. Nushka and I had to go to the hotel Tuesday to get some rest before our drive to Poland with Irene and Frances. John got us a good car at a good price, but it was a standard and Irene could not drive it. Consequently, Nushka had to do all of the driving. Only she and Irene had gotten international licenses. Nushka was very generous and has been given the A.J. Foyt of Europe award for dodging the Germans speedsters and living through the Polish drivers.

We made it to Dresden the first day. East Germany is under repair and still bleak. We found a boatel (ship hotel) in Dresden that was shockingly expensive, and we settled in for the night. We took a short walking tour of the city.

I don’t know the plans for the restoration of Dresden, but if they include leaving the black burns of British bombs on the walls of the Churches and the museums, then their plans mean something. Such plans show the rightful rage of people destroyed by warmongers and idiots. They must know that the sons and grandsons of idiots will come to Dresden, see that the city was full of art and think that the black stains will be removed so that no one will know what the warmongers and idiots did. But they may not remove the black burns. They may be part of the restoration. The idiots and the sons of idiots and the grandsons of idiots may never know. Only the city planners will know. I don’t know their plans, but I dream.

The Elba is swift and deep, but dark colored like burnt umber. The boats go up and down, day and night, hauling people and people’s stuff. Waves splashed against the hull of our ship hotel all night. I couldn’t sleep, so I read all night on the deck of the ship. I didn’t have the courage to ask for a cup of coffee. When morning came you could see the ducks playing across the river. They were the only swimmers. The park was vacant and run-down. One young man swept the cut weeds from the concrete steps that led down to the bank of the river. We ate well and left early. We were anxious to see Poland.

I thought the restoration of Germany had something to do with the Marshall Plan, and the big hearted American leaders, and the fool hearty Russians; but what a dupe I’ve been. What an ugly American! What a nincompoop! Those Germans may not know anyone else exists. They take care of themselves and their land. They make things, fix things, and farm every inch of ground. In my opinion every German would have had to die for the country not to recover after the war. I ate wheat I picked from a field next to the garage where we rented our car. I looked at the wheat and the fields and the garage; I saw what it meant to be productive. We Americans are full of sound and wind about our history and what we do. It’s nice to travel. It makes you humble.

Changing dollars to marks makes you feel rich until you spend them.

We stopped in a restaurant in East Germany near the Polish border. There was a woman in the restroom charging for taking a leak and hand towels and soap. In the restaurant there were slot machines which were incomprehensible. The food looked like something we would not order. We left without eating. I thought as I left: this will change. Germany’s dignity will come back, and they will plant flowers, and the restrooms will shine without attendants.

The last town in Germany, Gorlitz, had great houses and interesting streets. It could have been rich, or once rich. We looked, but we didn’t stop. We lost the first town we were supposed to see in Poland. I made Nushka stop at a roadside kolbasi stand. Irene didn’t want any, but Frances, Nushka and I shared some fatty sausage and a roll and thought it was pretty good. Frances tried her Polish for the first time and seemed pretty pleased with herself. She usually lets, or makes, Irene speak in Polish first, because Irene supposedly is better at the language. When we started to leave the roadside stand Irene noticed a hotel across the highway where she thought we could get a good meal. The hotel had a charming waiter, but Irene refused to speak Polish to him at first. His English was good enough, and she wasn’t ready yet for her debut. We discovered something at that first stop that persisted throughout our tour of Poland: the building were made of good, expensive material, but the craftsmanship and art were completely lacking. It was like a palace made into a jail using convict labor.

Krakow was 221K from the border and we didn’t get there until after 7P.M. Daylight lasts until about 10P.M. Traffic was heavy and Nushka had a torturous day of driving. The 100K before Krakow is all industrial sprawl and bleak, bleak. The countryside was pleasant and reminded me of Texas near Richmond, west of Houston. The farms are big, with wheat fields in all directions.

We found the Holiday Inn Orbis as soon as we arrived in Krakow. It was, by golly, just like a Holiday Inn, except they charged $125 a night and sold Chateaubriand for $4 and played MTV in the lobby. Nushka sent me to the front desk from the restaurant to make sure that the conversion from dollars was 11,000 to 1. The sister hotel, Orbis, had a Casino, and I went there and played Roulette. I lost, and took a cab back to the Holiday Inn. I told the driver I had lost $50 and he said that if he had had fifty dollars he could have had a 20 year girl all night and would have liked that much better than Roulette. But, he said, his wife would not have approved and that women never understand. He also said he had learned English while driving his cab, and that the people who ran the government were crazy, and that he had no money except for rent and food, even though now there were goods to buy. He wanted to come to America. I said he should come; he would like it. He agreed, and we listened to his tape of an English rock group.

Breakfast was strange to us. You had a choice of cattle feed, eggs, cold fish, ham and pickles. I think the milk was canned. The coffee was fine. I tried to eat cereal, but unlike a cow, I only had one chance to chew it; so, I gave up after a few bites. Nushka is accustomed to cattle feed. She has it at home with yogurt. We rode a bus to downtown. It was raining when we were let off; so, we had to take a cab to complete the trip. Shopping was great; good stuff and pretty. Heard the “Hejnal” played by the trumpeter of Krakow. They kill him two or three times a day and always on the same note. I don’t think it is a real person though. The natives pay no attention to his trumpeting.

Frances, Irene, and I went to the Casino again. I won. Hit 11 on the first spin of the wheel for about $200. Lost back $120 and quit. Frances and Irene put about $20 in the slots. Nushka rested for the drive the next day.

The first relative of Nushka’s we visited was Janka in Szprotawa. She was baby-sitting for a neighbor and Irene found her with the help of another neighbor. Irene, Frances, and Janka talked for about thirty minutes in the yard of her apartment house. It was my first chance to film the ground, my foot, and their conversations in Polish.

Next, we visited Adele in Tarnow. She was Nushka’s grandmother’s cousin. She looked like Babci and was very talkative. Nushka filmed her while she told of nearly being caught by the Russians and sent to Siberia after WWII. There was rape and murder and many atrocities, and she remembered it well and with bitterness. It was ironic that only one block from Adele’s apartment there was a flea market full of Russians who sold their clothes and other used stuff for a Russian profit that let them live like beggars off of their Polish neighbors. Nushka could understand most of the Polish conversations, which I think surprised her. Sometimes she attempted a few words in Polish which made everyone happy.

Adele’s apartment was very small. The communist way had been to allow each person just enough space to remind them of what the inside of a jail cell looked like. Adele’s daughter, Teresa, lived in the next apartment house with her daughter and son-in-law. They had slightly more space and it was well appointed and she was proud of it. Her son-in-law was a repairman and did very well financially by the standards of the neighborhood. The apartment was decorated in a party motif- black and silver. There was a bar, a stereo, a VCR and a large TV. They would have been in heaven had there been just 1500 sq. ft.

Our next stop was Kolvachovia. The drive from Tarnow to Kolvachovia was about 60K and there was a remarkable change of scenery. There was a dark wood followed by rolling hills and beautiful wheat and corn fields. The farm houses were far superior to the houses in the cities, well built and roomy. Hollow red tile and stucco were the main building materials. The houses looked to be about 3000 sq. ft. and most of them were very new. We found out later that the houses cost about $20,000. Most were paid for by parents who had saved, or were gotten because the family had gone to the new world and made the money and returned to live better in Poland than in Chicago or New York.

We met a cousin named Sofie. She was charming. So was her daughter, Eve, who is a doctor and wants to go to New York where she can make some real money. She makes about $600 a month in Poland. Sofie gave us the grand tour of every relative’s house in town. We drank six cups of tea and had more cookies than real people should eat. We heard “Prosser, prosser” so often that we thought of Barbara’s story of Poland from fifteen years before. She said she thought she would never get through all of the food she had to eat to be sociable.

We visited Nushka’s grandfather’s nephew, who looked a little like her grandfather. We waited as he came in from the field where he and his son had been cutting grass for cattle feed. The son was pulling a hay wagon, and the scene was like from a 16th century painting. Irene introduced us in Polish and the girls exchanged kisses with both the nephew and his son on both cheeks and the lips twice. They were very happy to see us and a little embarrassed to pose for pictures in their work clothes. After a minute, the nephew took off his hat, tried to smooth down his hair, gave up and just laughed. His son was handsome in a way a picture of your father is when he was young.

When we left the farm we made one last stop to see Spike’s brother, Tadaq. We arrived at dusk and he had just gotten out of the bath. He was a big, robust man; unlike Spike, who is small and wiry. He was surprised and full of hugs for everyone. Irene and Frances had pictures of the relatives in Houston and they showed them to everyone. Tadaq had many old pictures, too, and they talked for a long time about who everyone was in the photos. When Tadaq saw Spike’s picture, he cried. He wanted to see him, either in Poland or to have Spike help them come to America to visit. He had little money from retirement and could not afford the trip. He urged Irene to ask Spike to come. His wife, Irene, was charming, very talkative too. She had made many nice crocheted pieces and cutwork and gave some to Irene to take back to Houston.

On the way out of Poland we stopped to see the salt mine near Krakow. It is museum now, but it was a producing mine from as far back as the sixteenth century. Over the centuries people have built rooms and carved sculptures of all kinds throughout the caves, which are very far underground. The caves were dark and damp and the salt was mostly black. It was interesting, but like most man made things, it did not compare in beauty or grandeur to the natural caves in Texas and New Mexico.

We went from the salt mines to Brno, Czechoslovakia. It was a pleasant surprise to see the differences between Czech lands and building and those we had been seeing in Poland. The land was cultivated in much the same way and the farms were similarly organized, but neater and better maintained. The houses and apartments were also the same kind of construction and design but finished and decorated tastefully, so that what looked like a dismal cramped apartment in Poland, looked like a pleasant place to live in Czechoslovakia. Brno looked like a turn of the century, small city in the Eastern United States. We stayed at the Grand Hotel, ate Chinese food in their restaurant, and Nushka bought two sets of cups and saucers, which were outstanding and fairly priced, from the hotel crystal shop. We walked around the downtown area and window shopped, but they did not have very much to sell or very many nice items.

There was a border incident in which I was taken for $40 through a misunderstanding of my English by the exchange bank. I had asked directions to a station where we could get unleaded gas. The word gasoline was not understood, so I used petrol and the teller’s eyes lit up. “Ah,” he said, “petrol.” He thought I meant diesel and told me I needed coupons to purchase the petrol. “How many liters?”, he said. I told him 50. It turned out that I wanted benzine without whatever the Czech word is for lead, and the coupons were for diesel and were not transferable to benzine, nor were they refundable, even at the bank that sold them. The stations were pleased to take dollars, and abhorred crowns and coupons. Economics and government, they go so well together.

From Brno we went to Nurenburg, Germany. We stayed at the Atrium Hotel which was surrounded by a park with a walking/bike path. We walked through it, both that evening and the next morning. It was quiet and pleasant with many beautiful trees and flowers. At the restaurant that evening I ordered Berliner Weisse Beer for both Nushka and me. Larry Austin had given me Berliner Weisse in Alexandria and it was delightful then and in Nurenburg as well. It is a wheat beer, served cold in a large glass mixed with an ounce of raspberry syrup and poured in such a way as to cause a full head to grow. They put a straw in the glass and you drink it like a robust cocktail. They also mix in a green tart syrup instead of the raspberry if you ask. I had that version later in Heilbron and it, too, was delightful.

Everyone seemed to feel better about being back in Germany, in spite of the fact that none of us spoke German. Everyone knew I had taken one year of German twenty-five years ago and could say “Ich nicht spreche Deutch.” They relied on me totally to ask about directions and gasoline in spite of my failure and losses in Czechoslovakia. I responded by talking in English to Germans who replied in better English than we spoke. In fact, two of the waitresses in Nurenburg were from England.

Nushka had read the guide book, and we took the road to the romantic towns of Heilbron, Rothenburg, Wurzburg and Heidelburg. We deny that they were tourist traps, but it hurts our conscience. The Residenz in Wurzburg was the most interesting stop. It is a Baroque palace built by a bishop. He was afraid heaven would not wait for him so he built his on earth. It was bombed out in WWII, but has been about 30% restored. Apparently Napoleon found the Palace a nice place to sleep over as they have his bed and covers upstairs. We took lots of Videos and they are available for 19.95 per copy from Larke publishing in Splendora. As a bonus you will get a piece of handmade pottery and a set of used steak knives.

We finally got back to Sohren and Nushka, Irene, and Frances crashed at the hotel. I went to stay with John and Marian. John and I played golf the next day at the base. That evening we all went to the NCO club for dinner and played the slots for about an hour until we had lost enough. On Saturday Nushka and I and John, Marian, Kevin and Stephanie went on a Volksmarch. John picked the one in Langschied which was on the Rhine river. We walked 10K through the hills and wheat fields overlooking the Rhine. We ate sausage and bread, collected our metal for completing the 10K walk and returned to Sohren. It’s a good way to spend a Saturday. John said they were doing these marches in the States now in Deer Park. We asked him who would want to walk around the refineries in Deer Park, and he laughed.

John and Marian seem to being doing very well. Kevin and Stephanie are happy, cute, and smart babies. Kevin is very active and tries every way he can to get his way, but in the end does what his parents say to do. Stephanie is very affectionate and funny and handles Kevin very well, but sometimes she has to bite him to make him more understanding and generous.

John is very sure of himself, but not blindly or in an overconfident way. He likes to know his future so he has collected a wall of awards from his work and studies. He will finish his college studies in a few years through the courses offered at the base. Marian has enrolled in a business course this Fall and she is very excited and looks forward to when she will return to the business world. The Air Force seems to be providing everything for them materially as well as giving them opportunities for social and intellectual development. Now, if we can avoid war their situation will be okay.

We took the bus from the base back to Frankfurt. We spent one more really expensive night in a German hotel at the airport thanks to the generosity of Irene and Frances. They were absolutely charming and delightful the whole trip. It’s good to go with people who are experienced world travelers. They don’t get upset about anything.

The plane was cold, but the trip back seemed easier.

The Video is about two hours long and the some of the best parts are when we left the camera on and took pictures of our feet and the ground. That’s a tip for those of you who are about to order copies.

Trustees

The future has not been what I expected it would be. It has unfolded without revealing much. It has been a disappointment. What was beautiful in the beginning has slowly decayed. It has not been tomorrow’s bread, today. It has been sandstone easily reduced by flowing water.

I assume I will not pass away. Opposition to continuous life is meaningless and requires no expression. A daisy, a stone, a lick of fire, a wash of murky water, a spot of blood, all these things that change need no voice. They will not be and they need no trustee. I see the wind. I do not see the dead.

The parish priest told his people that they fall short in everything. What they care about: the rules, the way they manage, the appearance of things, the value of merchandise, their religious feelings, are small things. He said, “Christ is perfect and his lesson is for us is to love each other.” Christ, as I recall, did not say he was perfect. Instead, he said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Christ was the trustee who descended into hell, the hell where trustees have to go even if they do not return.

In the hallway of the school, by my locker, on my knees, my head in my lap, one arm shielding my face, and one hand over the back of my neck, I waited on a flash of light and a strong wind, but it never came. America was not bombed. Instead, America bombed Asia and the Middle East. Looking back, the trustees have made bad decisions about war and economics, about life and death, about us and other people.

The last paved street in my neighborhood marked the end of the white zone. The negro kids on the other side of the white zone, in a place that was either deep mud or blowing dust, took buses across town to where the other pavement ended. They were taken to schools where they learned to play basketball and were told that the main trustee had returned; but, he had not. It was a lie.

Maudy ironed for my mother and she made us sweet potato pies. Her family lived on a dirt road. She thought the main trustee was coming back, but she never said it. It wasn’t her place to talk about such things.

My grandmother liked Ike. My father liked Stevenson. Maudy didn’t say whom she liked. She didn’t vote. A group of trustees returned from hell and took charge of the military-industrial complex and they even scared Ike. So, Ike played golf. He had directed enough killing. Sherm took care of the details.

My father forgot the election. He made drill bits, played shuffleboard, drank enough beer, and improved his golf game. Mom continued to talk. I played second base, but I couldn’t hit. My uncle took dope. Maudy still lived on a dirt road, but she found hope: a white settlement had been built on the other side of her town and the city had to connect the commercial routes. Garbage trucks could not travel on dirt roads.

I only cried because of my batting average. I should have known what the trustees were doing and I could have cried for mankind. They used asbestos to make fireproof schools and clothes. I wanted an asbestos suit so that I could be a fireman. The Kents were all firemen and Bubba, even though he was small for his age, could hit. Some of the Kents died of cancer. It was very expensive to remove the asbestos insulation from the fire station. The suits were much easier to replace.

Next door to the Kents, Mr. Killian beat has wife because she hid the dirty dishes. She threw hot grease on him. Nobody interfered. The Killians bought a grocery store and moved away. Their boys, Bob and Jerry, were teen-agers before the Killians divorced. Bob was driving when he and Jerry collided with another car. Jerry was killed. They said Bob couldn’t get over it. The trustees who had returned from hell paid no attention. The military-industrial complex continued to grow. Ike was re-elected. My grandmother still liked him. My father didn’t vote. Maudy didn’t say if she voted. My mother’s father moved to South Houston because it was a union town. He was a union man and he had to be away from the Republicans. He threw Uncle Roy out of his house because Roy liked Ike. Papa liked to drink a little, but not as much as Uncle Virgil and not as much as my father.

Not many people ever see a trustee. Trustees are very hard to locate. Whenever they are appointed by a President or a Bishop, they must be credit worthy. They must not have been convicted of a felony. They must be willing to connect the commercial points of interest. They must respect their maids. They must not drink in public. Their children must not have taken dope. They must have enough property to avoid using a bondsman. They must not have been caught sleeping with a man, unless: they were in the Army, and it was necessary, and they had not had anal intercourse, and they were of the same rank. They must not have been a lawyer, but if they were, they must not continue to serve at the Bar. Their wives must not sleep with other men, but if they do, the men must be of the same rank and not overly protective of their own wives. A trustee must not talk, but if he talks, it should be about sports and foregone conclusions.

My first father-in-law, who should have been a Republican, but was not, smoked a pipe, had a reclining chair, read the letters of St. Paul, and died of testicular cancer. His widow married a dentist who didn’t smoke. Sometimes it is very hard to know what right things there are to do. Sometimes, after your children are born, that is the end of your contribution. There is no chance to go to hell and no chance to return. The smoke just swirls above your chair while you read, and a few people, every place in the world, each day, die. Not one trustee among them, not one cry for love, not one word said to save anyone.

I knew a Captain in charge of a missile base who could type better than his Company Clerk. I never understood why he was only a Captain. He was not very young; he appeared to be ambitious; he was intelligent; and the Army had very few people with those qualities. Maybe the Captain was not a trustee of the military-industrial complex. Maybe he had not voted for Ike. Maybe he had been convicted of a felony. Eventually, he left the Army before retirement and was replaced by a younger man who could not type and whose work had to be protected from inspections.

After the new Captain came they raised a missile on the launch pad and fired it, but it blew to pieces instead of flying. It happened more than once. It happened hundreds of times. At night, the launch crew drank beer and later they looked for women. Sometimes they were lucky, but usually they just went back to the barracks and tried to stay in their owns bunks. Sometimes the missiles would fly and new equipment would be installed and crew cut men in business suits would visit with the officers and exchange secret documents, which, once you had seen them, you would laugh.

That year, before they were many Americans in Vietnam, I met a priest who was against murder, but he did not object to smoking and martinis. He was also against fornication, but he himself was weak, so he married. He was an Anglo-Catholic. His wife also was against fornication and they had a few more common interests. If it had not been 1961, he could have continued his affair with the other priest. They had more in common and never put each other at risk, unless you consider that even though they were not Roman-Catholics they both believed in confession. However, the most important thing was that he was against murder, and he wanted everyone to have paved roads, and he wanted Maudy to be able to say how she voted, that is, if she voted. He could probably have gone to hell and returned, but he got caught up in the conventions of his time and went to England to study for his Doctorate in Theology.

There was no reason to test rats for cancer in the 60’s. There were enough humans who were looking for benefits from the trustees so that killing rodents was unnecessary. If it was chemical or electro-magnetic, people thought they should have it. The scientists say they never did it, and if they did it, it was for good and needed to be done and was approved by the trustees. They were not trustees; they were men who did what was necessary to save the world. Sometimes murder was necessary, but often the wrong people had to die. Justice is blind. The irony is that none of it had anything to do with the assassination of Kennedy, or the death of Marilyn Monroe, or the killing of Martin Luther King. These were acts of madmen, not acts of trustees, who are always the blameless un-indited co-conspirators.

Johnson’s nose was too big and he liked to talk to people while he sat on his American Standard so they could smell him while he told them what to do. Bomb this, bomb that. There were too many goddamn orientals and they were all communists and they didn’t like Ike. Maudy voted for Johnson and he paved the side streets near her house. In Georgia they debated about not allowing people to vote who had been dead for more than two years. Fortunately, for Johnson, no such legislation had been considered in Texas. The shallow river that ran through Johnson’s ranch was as deep as the thoughts of any senator or congressman in his state. There were more soldiers in Texas than in any other state and the trustees made weapons there. Everyone there liked Ike.

It was just awful that so many people died taking drugs voluntarily rather than being injected with lethal doses by doctors and nurses. No one can control people who are nuts, unless you can capture them. After that, you can only control them until they are dead. Controlling people after death takes a trustee, but trustees are hard to find.

VR17

Our world has 50 billion adult people. They live in 50,000 sectors which are divided into 1,000 units each having 1,000 adult members. Children are not counted. As they mature they replace the adults, keeping the population at 1,000 in each Unit. The standard variation is 2%, and there is a balance among all living things which the government maintains.

The government has ten departments; each department is led by an All-Sectors Coordinator, and these coordinators make up the World Coordination Committee. They propose the laws and regulations which are approved or not by a majority vote of the Unit Coordinators and the Sector Coordinators. The Unit Coordinators are nominated by merit ratings and elected by a majority vote of the people every five years. There is peace and order, and every system in the world is in balance + or – 2%.

I am a lab assistant at M2C Bio-technology Laboratories in Sector 9. In our world, I am called a Cheese. No one pays any attention to what I say or do. If I were to change the operation of the system, someone might notice, and they might punish me. It would not be by confinement, as that is no longer necessary. It would not be by murder, as that is no longer an official option. If I were not a Cheese, my password would probably be deleted from the central computer system. Since those of us who are Cheeses aren’t given passwords to do anything important in the system, we are protected from official punishment. We’re not even sure people like us are in the gene pool of the next generation. Information like that is kept from us. I’ve adjusted to this state of ignorance, but not everyone has adjusted, and not everyone is a Cheese.

There is ruling class of people in our world. We call them Cakes. They control our systems. The way they are chosen as leaders seems fair enough. All children go to school; learn language, mathematics, and science. Everyone take tests. Those who make the highest grades are given more instruction and more tests. The scores on the tests separate the Cakes from the Cheeses. They are the top five percent and they are blessed. That’s why we call them Cakes. They are something special and sweet, the best our world has to offer. Their knowledge makes them different from us. We, who are called Cheeses, are separated, molded, and provide the labor to make food for the whole world. The Cakes labor, too, but in their own ways, ways that our class does not understand. The difference between us is supposed to be knowledge, which is useful, but not meaningful to me. Once, I wanted to tell the truth, but the requirement for knowledge was so great that I kept silent. The truth couldn’t filter through what I had to know in order to be heard; so, for me, knowledge lost its meaning.

I was a witness to a crime, but I was never questioned by our leaders. What I would have said wasn’t important to them. It was just for the Cheeses, and we are just for ourselves. My story is about a few of the Cakes; important in Sector 9, but really nobodies in the system. They are people I like, but they are surprised when I talk and certain that what I say won’t help them. These Cakes were in the top five percent in their schools. What they did was shocking, even to themselves, but not to the very top class, the Icings. Icings are that very small group of people among the Cakes who are perfect. They eat the Cheeses, the Cakes, and try to scrape off the other Icings who run the world.

Once I attended an award ceremony for the Cakes of Science. My brother’s son was among this elite group. They served us brunch and seated us at round tables with small signs that named the Departments of Science to which a special son or daughter belonged. It was an effective segregation, because it spread the Icings evenly over the room. The ceremony was the most efficient I have ever seen. We were instructed to clap just one time, in unison, after the name of each distinguished student was read. The student stood as his or her name was read and we delivered one clap. There were four hundred claps for the future Cakes. The entire list was read, clap delivered, and seat taken in less than forty minutes. Then the ceremony changed, the students with perfect records lined up to the left of the speaker’s podium. The Dean asked the head of each department to come to the podium, give a small speech, call his perfect student to the microphone, and have him or her testify that his or her’s chosen field of study was the best. There was good humor, pats on the back, and uncontrolled, but light, applause. These were the Icings.

The Cakes I work with had not been called to the podium, but they got their one clap and brunch. I like them, and I’m as close as a Cheese a can be to a good Cake, Lee Stanley, one of our two pathologists. He taught me what I couldn’t learn in school; he let me do more work than an assistant is supposed to do. He is a problem solver who ignores rules that get in the way of understanding. He thinks that any position in government above his station was gained by political game playing. Engaging in games in order to supervise other Cakes is, to Lee, a waste of time. Even supervising other Cakes is a waste of time, since they either ignore you, use you, or steal your stuff to gain some political advantage. Lee is everything a Cake ought to be and nothing the world wants. He’s a white guy with a brown beard and a bay window, and his clothes are too comfortable.

Mary Coates is okay, too. She’s the other pathologist. She doesn’t pay any attention to me and I don’t get in her way. She doesn’t lie and she’s not out to get anybody. She’s very alert and never, never misses an instruction or screws up a report, but she can’t see the inside of a thing without help. Above all, she hates lies. I never lie to her. I do exactly what she tells me to do, and we get along. She is a small woman with dark eyes. She wears pants, blouses, and lab smock. She never talks about men or women. I think she has no social life other than her family, who are all doctors.

Our lab director is Charlotte James. The Cakes call her Charlie because she wants them to. I think it is some kind of management study. She’s okay, an easy boss who is almost never in the Lab. Lee thinks she’s the best he’s seen of the politically motivated types, but it’s because she lets him work around the rules. I think she does it to keep control of him in case she needs something in the future. She’s about forty-five years old, has naturally black hair, and an attractive face for a white woman. She is big, but not fat. She the physical equal of most men. When she talks to me, I say, “yes, yes, sure thing.” We get along fine.

Our Lab is responsible for medical quality assurance in Sector 9. We receive data from the health clinics continuously and we analyze it using the standards established by the Department of Health and Human Services. We are connected to the central computer system and to the other labs in every sector. Everything is so routine and normal that any variation in information at any time is an event. Last week there was an event. It was a turning point in our whole way of life, and it has eliminated our Cakes and perhaps the Icings as well.

Mary was monitoring the incoming data from unit 376 when she noticed an error in a variation report. She paged Lee through her terminal and asked him to look at the report.

Lee asked, “Who’s the HMC for 376?”

Mary said, “Connie Strong. Hit F20 again and you can see her profile.”

Lee didn’t react at first, but after a few minutes he said to Mary, “She’s not new. Why’s she turning in such shit?”

Mary said that she didn’t think it was shit and asked Lee to look carefully at the numbers. They varied as much as 20% over one time frame, which Mary thought could not be right. Moreover, they were coming from seventy-three different patient specimens and the breath analyzer intake mouthpieces had been changed automatically after each patient. Mary didn’t think Connie could have screwed this up if she had tried.

Lee still acted incredulous. He said that the data just couldn’t be right. He had never seen a variation of that magnitude.

Mary knew that, too. The data was unusual in another way. It was complete and in sequence rather than a random sample. She hadn’t seen that in ten years.

Lee’s comment was, “Of course not. What would be the point of all that useless data? The HMCs examine every person in every unit once a month and we just don’t need all that information to do QA on the population.”

Mary didn’t know how to explain it, and Lee concluded that it was just a mistake made by the computer at Unit 376.

Mary said she had run a systems check and had sent the 376 data through the computers in Units 125 and 714 with exactly the same results. Also, she thought Connie knew something was wrong because Connie took skin oil specimens and sent them through the computer at Unit 375. Further, she didn’t mark the batch as coming from her specimens. It was like Connie hoped someone would catch it accidentally.

Mary concluded that the 20% variations could only mean that either the UniVR400 medication was a bad batch, or there was an infusion of additional VR17 from an unknown source. She thought the additional VR17 was the most likely cause, otherwise they would have seen the same variations in VR34 and VR51.

Lee thought Mary was barking up the wrong tree. He asked where more VR17 would come from, since these viruses didn’t exist outside of human bodies, and the only exchange mechanism was through the genes. He told Mary that it was more likely to be a computer problem than that VR17 had been insidiously infused into the patients. A computer virus had attacked rather than a natural virus.

Mary told him to run his own computer test and, if he was right, she’d sleep much better.

Lee used an A8 Analyzer which he had kept from the time he had worked for the Artificial Intelligent Division. As he took it out of the case, he told Mary, “You Bio-types are all alike: too quick to say horse whenever you hear hoofbeats.”

Mary told him he was not supposed to have an A8 and wanted to know where he had gotten it?. Lee told her it didn’t matter and that she should be glad he had one when they needed it. Mary shrugged her shoulders and said, “ I suppose. You never know when you might find a zebra.”

I entered the Lab and saw both Lee and Mary huddled over Lee’s terminal. Mary looked up and said, “ Oh, hi, Harold. Lee’s looking for zebras.”

And I said, “He’s doing what?”

Mary said, “He’s checking out the computer at Unit 376 because I found some strange data coming from their patient specimens. The VR17 population counts varied 20% in one time frame.”

I stupidly responded, “Is that bad?” And Mary jumped on it and sarcastically remarked, “You should know. Don’t you work here too?”

I said I didn’t have to know all that stuff and trailed with the question; “Isn’t that why we run all of these computers?” Neither Mary nor Lee looked at me.

Mary told Lee that even if what they had found looked bad, there was probably not any danger to patients, because UniVR400 automatically balanced any virus population that it did not eliminate. The problem was that the data analysis was wrong, or so Lee thought. He said, “I suppose if we can’t rely on our computers we’ll all die too soon.”

I chimed in, “We’ll all die in a hundred years anyway. That’s not very long to me, so dying sooner shouldn’t make any difference.”

In an unusually candid and light-hearted way, Mary picked up on my less than profound insight and said, “Speak for yourself. I may need more than a hundred years to find an intelligent man to share my world view and a place to live where the balance of nature favors me.”

I told her it may take her that long, but that I wasn’t so picky. I liked my Sector 9 job with the finest Unit Rec facilities on the continent. I said, “I’ve been everywhere, and there’s no Rec like 9-376.”

Mary took my comments as a opportunity to question the low level of my interest in the world and the preference I had for recreation. She said sarcastically, “Don’t you ever get tired of the games, Harold?”

I got a little mad at her maternal attitude and said, “Hell no! It’s all a game. You’re just too timid to go all out. You need to get involved.” That rolled off her like a television ad, and she half responded with; “I’ve been involved. I’m looking for meaning now, not new Rec games.”

I tried to drag it out a little more by saying, “ Come on now, everything at the Rec ain’t a game, just most of it,” but she paid no further attention to me.

Finally, Lee said, “Okay, you guys, look at this on Mary’s terminal.”

It was the same information that Mary had gotten and Lee had to admit that he was wrong about the computer. There was a 20% variation. Lee concluded that the UniVR400 batch at 376 was bad. Mary disagreed. She said that VR17 was too specific. In answering Mary, Lee said he thought the UniVR400 was just not working on VR17 because the virus had a slight mutation. Mary asked Lee to look at the numbers on VR17 in the view window. She said it was a perfect match with primary VR17.

Lee agreed, looked very unsettled about her observation, and said he would have to think about it before deciding for sure what was wrong. I made the closing stupid comment that it didn’t seem like much of a problem to me, especially since the two doctors couldn’t even agree about the cause.

About that time Ms. James walked in and Lee told her that we had found a bug for her. She said straight-up, “ I don’t need any bugs, Lee. I need to hear you and Mary say how perfectly the lab is working. I was just on the phone with Stillwell from HRC9. He set a QA meeting for tomorrow morning at the Sector Center with Benefeld, Ortiz, and Fleck.”

Lee said, “Who are those guys?”

Ms. James told us that Benefeld was our P1 Communicator; Ortiz, the newly-elected All-Sectors HR Coordinator, and Fleck was a Balance Analyst. Mary asked her why all of the brass was interested in us, and Ms. James said she didn’t really know. The QA meetings were usually routine, just HRC9 and the B.A. attended. Ms. James guessed that they were probably after someone’s ass. Something was going on that we didn’t know about.

Mary piped up, “Maybe we know,” causing Ms. James to say, “What do you mean, ‘Maybe we know’?” Mary explained that we had found some screwy data from 376, big variations in the VR17 population which she thought was added bugs.

Ms. James almost went into orbit. She changed into her boss tone of speech and asked, “Added? Where would they come from? All of the viruses are supposed to be in balance. That’s fundamental in our business. You can’t add to those populations.”

I thought maybe it was time for me to leave and I asked, “Ms. James, since this is medical stuff, do I need to be involved?”

Mary lost her cool and called me a spineless dipshit and said, “Charlie, why don’t you just let him go to the Rec Exchange and bury himself in something?”

Ms. James just said, “I’m going to ignore all of that nonsense, and we’re going to try to get to the bottom of this by tomorrow morning.” She asked Lee what he had done so far. Lee said he had done every system check known on the CPU at 376, 125 and 714. Those were the Units through which Mary had run the abnormal data from 376. All of them gave the same results – all normal systems, and all detected the variation. Lee said he hadn’t looked at the programs yet, because he didn’t think it was necessary. He asked Ms. James if she wanted him to look into them.

Ms. James responded, “I didn’t think you could look at the programs. I thought they were built into the CPUs at the atomic level.”

Lee told her he had an A8 Analyzer which he had gotten from Artificial Systems, and, with that machine, he could look into the code. Ms. James was sceptical that Lee would find anything. She said, “Those programs can’t be more than a few hundred atoms, and they’re just counters and transmission keys. They count and send, that’s it. From what you and Mary have said, they are doing just that, and they work the same on all units. I think we should focus on the data.”

Lee kept saying that he thought they were probably missing something simple, going too fast over the problem. Mary put in her two cents to take a little air out of Lee by suggesting that he thought everything was a machine bug of some kind. She said that Lee thought that when people fuck-up it didn’t matter because they were just operators. The system ran them. Ms. James told Lee to give it another try; to take his A8 Analyzer and discover if he was right.

Ms. James told me to find the name of the HMC at 376. Mary told her at once that it was Connie Strong. So, Ms. James went on telling me to go and get her and tell her to meet us at the 376 Rec Exchange and to bring her encounter log. She added that I was to tell her it was an order from the P1 at HRC9.

Mary added to the instructions saying, “Tell her to bring the mouthpiece covers and the skin oil patches she used when she collected the specimens today. “ I told them I’d make sure she came and brought everything they had requested.

After I left, Ms. James and Mary went over the information again. Mary said she was sure that Connie knew something was wrong. Connie had sent confirming data from skin oil specimens and routed the information – un-marked – through another Unit’s computer. She was unusually inquisitive for an HMC. They were normally more psychology-oriented. They listened to patient complaints and dispensed the UniVR400 while explaining balance in biological systems. She had to be thinking about this event for a long time. She knew how it was going to happen and how it was going to turn out. Otherwise, she would not have sent two batches by two routes. It was like she was sticking it in the Lab’s face; saying, “You QA people at M2C aren’t doing your jobs. Stuff is getting by you.”

Ms. James bristled and said, “Nothing gets by us. No HMC has information that we don’t discover. What we’ve got here is an anomaly, an HMC who’s trying to prove something at our expense.”

Mary thought Connie had guts. She said that three hundred years ago Connie could have been a physician and marched to her own drummer; every HMC’s dream today. Ms. James would have liked to have been around when medicine was called an art, before we had all this information and all of these cures for diseases.

Mary said that cure was the wrong word. She told Ms. James that she was old-fashioned, that balance was the word. Everything in the biological sphere lives off of other things and has a known life cycle. We didn’t need physician’s anymore, because all we could do was balance between the parasites, humans included. We are all patients and everyone has an HMC. She asked who was Ms. James’s HMC. Ms. James responded without hesitation, “Mariann Wilson, 9-116. She’s nice to talk with once a month. I wonder if Connie will be nice to talk with. I’ll bet not. I’ll bet she’s got a bag of worms for me.”

Mary said that they ought to look at Connie’s confidential file before meeting that evening. It might give them a clue to solve the problems.

They used Mary’s terminal and Ms. James’s password to review Connie’s personnel file. She was from Sector 5, Unit 206. Her mother was an HMC and her father was a Balance Analyst in Sector 7. Her primary education was through day care at 5-206 Rec Exchange – the usual. She excelled in all symbol manipulation examinations and in biological systems recognition tests. At fourteen, she was admitted to HMC training at 5-206 Medical Specialty Center. She graduated at age twenty and served four years at the M2C Lab in Sector 7. After the internship she was assigned as an Assistant HMC at 9-376, and last year she became the primary HMC when Helen Dailey moved to Sector 14. There were no QA issues on her record.

Mary asked Ms. James what she thought was driving Connie? Was she unhappy with the little progress in the last 150 years and poking around a bit to find out if the system was really stable? Ms. James responded that Connie was not going about it the right way if she brought the brass down on M2C Lab.

Lee returned with some new information. The virus count program was eight atoms smaller when it counted data from 376. It restored to its original size once the count was completed. There was an artificial virus attached to the data during processing. It was very odd though because it seemed to be correcting the program rather than causing any error in the count.

Mary added, “So, the basic program is wrong and the data Connie sent through it is right.”

Lee then said, “Not only that, the header in the data corrects the program then reinstates the original errant code.”

Ms. James said, “Shit! I don’t know what to do now. We really have to get to the bottom of this tonight. I can’t go into that QA meeting in the morning and have those bastards know more about this problem than we know.”

I called Connie Strong and told her to meet Ms. James at the Rec Exchange. She was tense, but very excited. She would come, no questions asked. I gave her a time that was early and met her myself, just to make sure she would be there when Ms. James arrived. She was right on the button. I had seen her picture on Mary’s terminal, so I recognized her immediately when she came in. I introduced myself and told her that Ms. James would arrive in a few minutes. Then I tried to engage her in some small talk, forgetting she was a Cake.

I said, “Ms. Strong, do you come to the Rec Exchange often?

And she answered flatly, “Almost, never.”

I tried again, “I come every night. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

She just turned up her nose and said, “ I know what I’m missing.”

Like other Cheeses I just don’t know when to stop, so I continued, “There’s nothing you can’t do here, you know. There are parts of this place even I haven’t seen. They change the whole environment every two weeks. They have a special team of people who do nothing but create new stimuli and invent new games. It may be an hour before Ms. James arrives for your meeting. Do you want me to show you the new toys? Two people can enjoy it better than one.” She had a real good ass for a white girl.

But she picked up on me and said, “No thanks, Why don’t you hit on some of your good friends who hang out here? I’m sure you’ll find the kind of body that fits your ever-changing environment and your special kind of stimuli.”

In a last attempt to get even I said, “You’re gonna wish you had gone with me. I’m much better than what’s coming to meet with you.”

To which she responded, “I’ll take my chances.”

I told her not to leave, that I was responsible for making sure she stayed. It was an order from the P1 at HRC9 and that she must already know why. I laid it on thick that she was not to leave.

She let me know my place by saying, “I’m not going anywhere. I set up this meeting.”

After I left, Connie was joined by Howard Hogan, her patient and the man who had helped her to create this situation. She thanked him for coming, told him she was sorry about the short notice because she thought it would take the Lab several days to put the pieces together.

Howard asked her who had called the meeting. Connie told him that their dumb messenger boy said it was the P1 at HRC9, but she thought it was Charlotte James. The P1 didn’t know enough to call a meeting like this.

Howard asked what authority Ms. James had. Connie said it was more responsibility than authority, but that the brass depended on the Labs for the final information in any medical matter. Howard wondered why the lab had reacted so fast to the data transmission. Connie told him that she really hadn’t expected the Lab to call this meeting – especially at the Rec Exchange. They concluded that the Lab must have something at risk, too.

Howard said, “Well, they’re probably not risking their lives like we are.”

Connie responded, “I don’t think our lives are on the line. We’re only after the truth, and we’re only trying to fix some problems in the system. I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”

Howard wasn’t convinced. He said, “This is personal. I think the system is poisoning me and I’m trying to save my life. I’ll risk anything and I’ve already gone beyond the rules.”

Connie tried to assure him that it was just a security violation and asked, “What can they do to you for that? You can say that you didn’t know what you were doing. You were playing with the programs – testing security. You’ll probably just have to apologize.”

Howard told her that administrators didn’t see things the way she saw them. They weren’t trying to save patients or improve humanity. They were just trying to keep the balance and play the games.

Connie tried to pacify him by saying, “We’re all patients, even the administrators. You can’t hide your humanity no matter what your job is.”

Howard jumped on her comment, “Yes. Isn’t it strange that we are all patients? Doesn’t that seem to be the least bit odd to you? I mean how can everyone in the world be infected with the same viruses and receive the same therapies on the same time cycles? It’s just not that way in nature, and it’s not that way in humans either. There are too many variables. The Barr-Scott theories that led to this balance therapy are bullshit. The fuckers in charge are just killing us over a longer period of time.”

Connie tried to reason with him. She said, “ Doesn’t what you’re saying sound strange to you? Listen, you said: ‘…killing us over a longer period of time.’ Howard, I support you. Didn’t I help? I think there is something wrong too, but I think when the truth is known, it will be corrected. We’ve already discovered a variation in the VR17 population that was not supposed to be there.”

Howard explained that they didn’t actually find a variation in the VR17 population. They had found an eight atom filter in the count program that was screening out the variation. They didn’t know if the variation was normal at 20% or 2%. It may not make any difference in the patient’s health either way. It was just a difference; that’s all.

Connie final defense was, “Well, we’ve rung someone’s bell because Charlotte James has never asked me to come to a meeting.”

It was then that Charlotte James arrived. She walked directly over to Connie, and said, “I’m Charlotte James, are you Ms. Strong?”

Connie said, “Yes, and you’re the M2C Lab Director?

Ms. James lowered her eyes to affirm that she was indeed the Director. She then introduced Lee Stanley and Mary Coates.

Connie looked pleased by all of the attention she was going to get and said, “I’m pleased to meet you all. This is Howard Hogan, a patient of mine.”

Ms. James, in an effort to dismiss Howard, said, “Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Hogan. If you will excuse us, we need to speak with Ms. Strong privately concerning a medical matter.”

Connie raised her voice slightly while saying, “ Please excuse me, Ms. James, but Mr. Hogan and I are not meeting socially. He is involved in the events you want to discuss.”

Ms. James looked surprised and responded, “ I see. Very well then, you are welcome to stay, Mr. Hogan. I’m not sure why we are meeting. I came with an agenda in mind, but you and Ms. Strong may have something else in mind altogether.”

Connie said, “No, not at all. Your Lab is very efficient, very fast. I’m sure we want to discuss the same matter.”

Ms. James explained that Mary and Lee were careful and didn’t miss anything. They had gotten Connie’s messages. She then looked directly at Connie and said, “Do you want to tell us what it is you know?”

Connie said, “We don’t know anything. I just turned in my patient data as it was collected.”

Ms. James turned red and said in strong deep voice, “Let’s not be coy, Ms. Strong. What is your message?”

Connie asked what assurances Ms. James would give them that there would be no consequences?

Ms. James softened her manner and voice and said, “We’re just the Lab. We only have interest in the truth. We only need to know the nature of things. We have no interest in consequences. Our information is strictly confidential. It’s a matter of ethics.”

Howard was a no-bullshit kind of guy and demanded a plain answer. He told them he was not a philosopher.

Ms. James tried to assuage him by saying,” If what you have done is a mistake, it will be forgiven, no consequences. If it is something that reveals a truth, and that truth is helpful to us all, then the consequences will be good.”

Connie was more anxious to get on with the discussion than to reach a deal. She said, “That’s good enough for me, Howard.”

Howard still insisted that Ms. James was not entirely straight-forward, and sarcastically stated, “Please, don’t let me stop this discussion, I’m only the patient.”

Connie began, “Let me first give you some background information. If you count my HMC training, I’ve been seeing patients for fifteen years. I’ve never treated a really sick person, except the very old ones who were in their last week of life. Yet, no one I’ve ever seen is completely healthy. They’ve had low grade fevers, headaches, chills, and weakness at least once a month, lasting as much as a week. These, of course, are the symptoms of our common viruses. I’ve dispensed every form of UniVR, from 25 to 400, that has every been released. Patients who have not taken it have experienced worst symptoms than those who never fail to come to their appointments. Naturally, any satisfaction gained from my work as an HMC has been in the psychological practice. But even there the conversations with patients are dominated by complaints about depression over the monthly illness cycle. About six months ago Howard Hogan became my patient. He was very difficult. He told me HMCs were all quacks. He said that he just didn’t believe that we could not eliminate viruses. He was a systems analyst who worked on programs which convert artificial elements in energy exchange systems.

Howard picked up on the flow of Connie’s story and added; “That’s right, and those elements are no less complicated to convert than a virus would be to eliminate. I believe the medical business is full of quacks who are not trying to rid us of these viruses because it is in their own best interest. I challenged Connie to prove me wrong.”

Connie said; “He made me very angry. My mother and my grandmother were both HMCs and my father was a Pathologist and a Balance Analyst. None of those people ever lied to me about anything. They were not quacks, they were knowledgeable, honest people, and still are. They were interested in medical progress and in health maintenance. Howard made my blood boil. I set out to prove that he was wrong about me, my family, and medicine. I showed him how UniVR400 worked. I explained to him that VR17, 34, and 51 were integrated with the immune system and that destroying them entirely also destroyed the immune system resulting in a worst condition than before. Then I showed him ways in which I collected specimens from patients and transmitted them to M2C Lab for quality assurance checks so that adjustments could be made on the UniVR400 to counteract mutations in the viruses. I let him use my computer to check the programs.

Ms. James was careful to point out that what they had done was against the rules of HRC9.

Connie didn’t care. She said, “I think it was worth the risk. Besides, Howard showed me his computer clearance, and he has a higher priority code than I have.”

Howard added the fact that he had an All-Sectors Clearance for artificial systems program analysis.

Ms. James pointed out that such a clearance was not for medical information and that Howard still had to use Connie’s code to get into the system. Howard agreed

Connie, pushing to justify what they had done said, “Well, he found something anyway, and it was significant. Tell them what you found, Howard.

Instead of Howard answering, Lee responded; “He found a filter in the count program.”

Looking surprised, Howard said; “You know already?”

Lee explained that he had worked backward from the data Connie sent, and had found Howard’s eight atom delete/replace routine in the header of the data transmission.

Howard was really pleased and said, “Neat work.”

And, like a comrade in arms, Lee said, “Routine.”

Howard asked Lee why there was a filter? Lee didn’t know.

Connie said, “But you’re the Lab!”

Lee still didn’t know why it was there.

Mary added that they also didn’t know if it made any difference, except she thought the variation indicated an infusion of VR17, but she didn’t know the source of it.

Howard’s face turned red. He looked directly at Connie and said; “It’s worse than I thought. It’s not a matter of ignorance or ethics: it’s felony assault by the bastards that control HRC.”

Connie jumped to the defense of the power that had made her a Cake and said, “Don’t fly off the handle. Nobody has been hurt by this: it’s just something we don’t understand yet.”

Ms. James lent her voice of authority by saying, “Connie’s right, Mr. Hogan. Just be calm and we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Mary, in an attempt to change the direction of the discussion said, “I think we should see how widespread this variation problem is.”

Lee already had an answer. He said he had taken a ten percent sample from 2000 sectors and put them through the un-filtered program using Howard’s delete/replace routine. The variations in VR17 ranged from 15% to 37% with 80% falling within the 20% range seen in Sector 9.

Mary concluded aloud that it was an infusion, but didn’t say how it was being done. She asked Connie if she had brought her specimens, mouthpieces and patches? Connie, of course, had them in a collection bag in her hand. She handed them to Mary.

Mary said, “I’ll take them to the Lab and test them in the morning.”

Howard asked her, “If you find anything, will you let me know? I’m the patient. I’m supposed to know if I’m being infected.

Mary told him that Connie would let him know if they found anything: that she was his HMC.

Connie tried to reassure Howard, but he said he didn’t trust anyone.

Mary and Howard stood up to leave. Charlotte stood, too, and in a friendly gesture said, “Would you both like to stay for a few minutes and I’ll buy us a drink? We can relax and reflect on the problem with a little less tension.

Lee answered, “I’m for that. I’ll order for us. What will you have, Connie?

Connie ordered water on ice with a lime. Ms. James, Club Soda with E over ice. Howard and Mary decided to leave. Ms. James suggested that she and Connie move to a more private area of the room where they could sit and talk comfortably.

Ms. James said to Connie, “Please call me Charlie and I’ll call you Connie if you don’t mind. That’s how it should be among peers, don’t you think?

Connie knew the manipulation but said, “Yes, definitely.”

Charlie went on, “Where were you trained, Connie?”

Connie told her, “5-206 Medical Specialty Unit.”

Charlie said, “That used to be Georgetown Medical School, didn’t it?

Connie liked the show of interest and added, “Yes, About 150 years ago. They were the first health maintenance center to use the balance therapies and the first place that tested the broad spectrum antiviral UniVR drugs. Balance therapy was fully tested there.”

Charlie began setting her hook. She asked, “You said that both your mother and grandmother were HMCs?”

Connie followed, “Yes, they were trained at 5-206 MSU too. My family on both sides are medical people. My father was a pathologist and a B.A. He’s retired now. He was also the Director of Sector 7 M2C before he became a Balance Analyst. Once he was almost elected an All-Sectors Human Resources Coordinator, but someone else who knew a little more got the job.”

Charlie pulled her line a little, “Impressive. I would like to meet him someday.”

Connie was pleased and said, “When he comes to visit, I’ll invite you to dinner. You two should have much to talk about.”

Charlie couldn’t let go of the idea that Connie’s father had almost been elected an All Sectors Coordinator. She really wanted to know why he didn’t make it through the last round. What it was he didn’t know?

Connie didn’t know. She said that he thought he was too old and had missed some information that the younger candidate had gotten.

Charlie was dumbfounded that he had not even tried to guess what it was. But, Connie said he didn’t care. It’s was over and it wasn’t important to him.

Lee returned with the drinks.

Charlie offered a toast: “To medicine. To your health, each of you.”

Connie and Lee raised their glasses.

Lee asked, “Do you know all about each other, now?”

Connie responded first, “Charlie knows a little about me, but I have not yet learned anything about her.

Charlie apologized, “I’m sorry. I was so interested in you that I forgot to share. There’s not much to tell really. I was trained at 10-118 MSU as a pathologist and I worked as a pathologist until I became Director of Sector 9 M2C, about 10 years ago. I’m very interested in becoming a B.A., which is why I was so keen on meeting your father.”

Lee offered his two cents, “I wouldn’t want to be a B.A. It’s just an administrative job. You’re stuck checking the obvious in a hundred different locations a year.”

Charlie objected, “That’s exciting, and it leads to power in our system. Connie’s father nearly became an All-Sectors Coordinator.

Lee said, “You mean political power.”

And Charlie shot back, “Of course.”

Connie said she didn’t like politics. She was satisfied with seeing patients and with her private life. In her opinion, politics would eliminate both. Lee liked his Lab work, and the brass he had met didn’t impress him. But Charlie didn’t want to miss anything.

Connie grew tired of the conversation and finally said, “I’m sure you’ll get everything you want, Charlie. Please excuse me, but I’ve got to go now. Will you please call me in the morning and let me know the results from Mary’s tests and whatever else you uncover.”

Charlie lowered her voice and responded, “Certainly, as soon as I know.”

Connie left while Lee and Charlie sat quietly sipping their drinks.

The next morning Charlie and Mary met in the hallway outside of Stillwell’s office. Mary appeared unsure and anxious. She told Charlie she was not sure what she had found in Connie’s specimens. Charlie wanted to know why she was not sure.

Mary said, “Because the VR17 was dead.”

Looking puzzled, Charlie asked, “What does that mean?”

Mary said, “I found dead VR17 in the mouthpiece covers, which means that the mouthpiece covers were used to infuse the viruses into the patients. But, I ask myself, why? The viruses were dead and could not contribute to the variation problem we detected.”

Charlie reflected that there must be a further explanation. Mary must have some idea, since she was the best pathologist Charlie had ever known.

Mary told Charlie she must not have known very many pathologists. She told Charlie, “I wish I could help you more. My best guess is that there are two parts to this infusion process, and we aren’t seeing the other part. There is a reason why the viruses are dead in the mouthpiece covers, but not in the patients. I just don’t know that reason.”

Charlie thanked her for trying and told her that they probably had enough information to run a good bluff. She added that she would not let them know she had a shred of doubt.

Mary did not want to stay in the hallway all day to wait on the results. She asked to leave and Charlie consented. Before leaving, however, Mary commented, “Since they must already know everything that we know, why are they even bothering with this meeting?”

Charlie responded that nobody really knows everything. She thought that maybe the brass just wanted to see the extent of their control.

Mary said, “I would be afraid to do what you’re going to do. They would make me crazy.”

Charlie liked the praise and told Mary, “I’m not worried. I know enough. At least, I know a great deal more than they think I know.”

Mary asked her to do the right thing and not to forget Connie.

Stillwell’s secretary, Melody, opened her office door, saw Charlie and said “Hello, Ms. James. Mr. Stillwell is expecting you. Why don’t you come in now and I’ll tell him you’re here. Would you like something to drink, an apple juice, maybe?”

Charlie responded automatically, “Yes, thank you.” She then picked up an electronic newspaper and sat on a small couch to wait for Melody to return with the small glass of apple juice.

Melody handed Charlie the juice and said, “ Here you are, Ms. James. Mr. Stillwell will be a few minutes. He asked to be forgiven for keeping you waiting.”

Charlie waited only a few minutes until Melody told her she could go into the board room. When she entered the room Stillwell, Ortiz, Benefeld, and Fleck were already seated at the conference table. Stillwell spoke first. “Charlotte”, he said, “Thank you for being so patient. We’re very glad to see you today. Let me introduce you to everyone. This is Manuel Ortiz. He is the All-Sectors HR Coordinator.

Charlotte looked with wide dark eyes at Ortiz and said, “It’s a privilege to meet with such a distinguished leader.”

Ortiz who was used to such grovelling said, “The honor is mine, Ms. James.”

Stillwell continued, “This is Jack Fleck. He is the B.A. for Sectors 1 through 100.” Charlie already knew Fleck and they just smiled politely at each other. Stillwell then introduced Leslie Benefeld, the P1 Communicator for Sector 9.

Charlie’s eyed opened more widely as she looked directly at Benefeld and said, “I see Mr. Benefeld often on the News. Nice to meet you in person.”

Benefeld tilted his head to the right slightly to affirm his celebrity status while saying, “My pleasure, Ms. James.”

Stillwell then began the QA meeting. Charlie pretended to be at a disadvantage regarding the material they were are going to cover and asked that Stillwell bring her up to date on the subject of the meeting.

Stillwell hurriedly responded, “ Yes, I understand. There are some new developments and they happened as Mr. Ortiz was traveling through Sector 9. So he thought it would be a good opportunity to see how well Sector 9 HR is handling things.

Ortiz added his voice saying, “ Yes, I’ve been anxious to see more of the details in the operation of individual sectors.”

Benefeld gushed that he was always glad to be included in the work of scientists. It contributed greatly to his communications with the public.

Stillwell looked at Charlie and began to explain, “As you know, we have had problems from time to time with the computer network. Mostly the problems have been analyzed and corrected on the fly by the main processor. However, some have been security problems, not really computer bugs. With more than 50 billion users in the network, we expect some tampering. Yesterday, Jack’s staff detected a security problem coming from Unit 376 in Sector 9. That Unit reports through your Lab.”

Fleck then added, “That’s right. Someone, perhaps Connie Strong, broke into a transmission program and modified it and then transmitted patient data through the modified program. We don’t think it was Connie because her profile does not show the requisite skills to change such a program.”

Ortiz added his voice of authority by explaining that whenever something like tampering happened, they QA committee and HRC had to get to the source of the problem.

Charlie decided to state flatly what she knew, “It was Howard Hogan, a patient of Connie’s, who is a computer analyst and he has an A8 Analyzer. We questioned him yesterday.”

Stillwell was stunned. He asked, “How did you discover the tampering so quickly, Charlotte?”

Charlotte felt the edge she had gained and with a slight amount of pride said, “My pathologists are very alert. The data from 376 was out of range. They were compelled to look into the problem.”

Fleck, showing his detective instincts, said, “Yes, of course it was, the result of the tampering by Hogan.”

Charlie, obviously trying to put Fleck in his place said, “There’s more to it than just tampering with a program, gentlemen.”

Ortiz encouraged Charlie to tell them more of what she knew and Charlie continued, “Hogan did not corrupt the program. He corrected it. The data from 376 was correctly counted. All of the other data we’ve gotten has been incorrect.”

Stillwell vigorously objected and told Charlie that he was sure she was wrong, that he could not understand how she could you have come to that conclusion?

Charlie explained; “Lee Stanley, my most experienced pathologist is also an experienced computer analyst. He has an A8 Analyzer, too, and he knows medicine. Mary Coates, the pathologist who detected the problem before Lee traced it to the source, deduced the problem before Lee confirmed her theory. The bottom line is the VR17 is being infused into the whole population. The program was just hiding that information from the lab. If there was a bug in the program, it was there before Hogan tampered with it.”

Stillwell stood and looked directly at Charlie and loudly asked, “ Are you accusing HR of infecting patients and trying to cover it up?”

Charlie looked at Ortiz and responded, “No. I’m saying that the problem existed before yesterday and that Hogan just drew back the curtain.”

Stillwell insisted on answering as he took his seat again. He said, “Well, no one at HR would intentionally infect anyone. Besides, HR17 can’t be transmitted except genetically. If you’ve stumbled onto something, it’s not what you think it is.”

Fleck tried to divert the argument by saying, “This is not really a medical problem. It’s just a security problem. I think we should focus on that issue.”

Charlie expressed mild disagreement, but saw an opportunity in Fleck’s comment to wiggle out of a conflict which she could not win. She said, “I disagree, yet I recognize that there has been a security breech.”

Ortiz apparently decided that Charlie should be brought into the circle of those who were not guessing about management and policy. He said, “Gentlemen. I think we need to show more respect for what Ms. James is saying. HR directors do not operate in an intellectual vacuum. Our system is not built on ignorance, but on enlightenment. Everyone is not equally enlightened, but there is never a reason not to recognize a person who shows their understanding of an issue.”

He could not have done more to win Charlie, who looked at him as if he were completely naked.

Ortiz continued, “You and your staff are quite right, Ms. James. VR17 is being infused into each patient through the mouthpiece covers before they are given UniVR400. They are also infused with VR34 and VR51. Hogan did not tamper with those filter programs. The viruses enter the body dead, but are revived by the UniVR400. The mechanisms are not known by any single person and are not in any one computer. It is a closely guarded secret by the All-Sectors Committee. There are other such secrets in the world order. You have become privileged to know about one. Is that a problem for you in any way?”

Charlie did not answer directly but asked, “Why is it being done? Why is it necessary to make people suffer these viral illnesses?”

Ortiz, who wanted to sound like a philosopher, said, “It’s better that everyone suffer a little than that anyone should suffer and die before his appointed time.”

Charlie wasn’t going to buy that airy stuff and wanted to know how people would suffer more by not being infected?

Fleck decided he could answer Charlie. He said that it was a history question. That about three hundred years ago medicine began to make breakthroughs in curing diseases causes by parasites and genetic mutations. For about one hundred fifty years there was continuous progress, and the numbers of workers in the medical fields increased to thirty percent of the population, worldwide. Once the last diseases were conquered, then fewer people were needed in the medical care industry. The drop was so sharp the displaced people could not be assimilated into the other industries. This resulted in a sudden and dangerous increase in stress-related illnesses. There was a higher rate of morbidity and mortality than before the parasites were conquered. The whole system of health maintenance was thrown out of balance. Then the leaders in the social sciences began to apply the Barr-Scott theories concerning balancing parasite populations to general economics and they found the solutions.

Ortiz said he could put it in simple terms. Application of the Barr-Scott theories in biology seemed to work in maintaining a perfect ecological balance. If you eliminated the viruses entirely, the direct and immediate effect was occupational displacement at the human level and run-a-way populations in multiple species below the human level. Under these conditions more people became sick and more died than if the viruses were maintained in the human population. Consequently, the only way to balance the systems was to introduce the parasites into everyone in a controlled way. Of course, when this was done, the microbes chosen were those that did not destroy health and caused the least discomfort when completing their life cycles in the hosts.

Charlie then reduced their explanations to the language everyone could understand. She said, “You mean, we have been making people sick on a regular basis for one hundred and fifty years so that people could be employed in the medical services?”

Ortiz swallowed hard and said, “That puts it rather too bluntly and oversimplifies the issue, but yes. That’s how a layman would see it.”

Charlie asked the question she thought everyone would ask, “Don’t you gentlemen think that we could suffer a little more pain and death for the sake of a little more progress in the areas of politics and economics? Must medicine always be everyone’s whore?”

Ortiz then sounded his retreat, “Politics and economics are not our turf, Ms. James. We are given the responsibility of our enterprise, and we must defend that cause. When they have repaired the other disciplines, we will be ready to offer more cures and longer lives.”

Charlie saw that her little courage was not required and she retreated by transferring the concerns she had expressed. She said, “I see that too, but there are principles involved. There are people in my lab and in Connie’s practice who know about this problem, even if they don’t know about macro economics. They’ll feel that their integrity has been violated. They’ll object.”

Ortiz pulled his rank. He said, “Ms. James, it is your job to see that they understand and that they support the greater good. My God, we’re saving lives. That’s what medicine is all about. We completely control disease. No one dies until age 100, and we only suffer a little discomfort each month for the sake of everyone’s good health. Surely your principles and your colleague’s integrity are not violated by that.”

Charlie began her walk backwards, “ I suppose that’s true, but how do we know we can’t find cures for economics and politics, and how do we know people aren’t willing to suffer for those cures?”

Stillwell decided to offer his brand of official wisdom, “Charlotte, the people won’t suffer anything. We are here today because a patient did not want to suffer even a little discomfort once a month. Do you really think that our medical workers and their families would take a chance on deadly illnesses for the sake of a unknown leap into the future of politics and economics?”

And Charlie agreed, they would not.

Ortiz thought it was necessary, though it was not, to further elaborate on the obvious. There are many Icing who just don’t respect the simple things that even a Cheese could understand. He added, “There is a positive side to this situation of having artificially created illnesses. Medicine is now mostly psychology, and we know that psychotherapy is very effective in health maintenance. It is the reason we have such longevity in humans. Stress is relieved and good common sense prevails in most matters. But psychotherapy only works when patients are seen regularly. VR17, VR34, and VR51 are the reasons why people go to their HMC every month. The good parasites balance the system and make it work.”

Charlie said, “Well, I agree, but what shall we do about this QA problem?

Fleck interrupted, “Security problem!”

Ortiz said that regardless of the complexities of the issues, one thing was clear, both Hogan and Strong have violated the security law and they had to be dealt with firmly. It was within his authority to cancel their access codes, so he did. He saw no reason to make a bigger case out of this unless they wanted to appeal his decision. If that was their choice, he would turn the case over to Justice, but he could promise Ms. Strong and Mr. Hogan that they would do better just to accept the deletion of their access codes.

Charlie said, “I’m not really involved in that communication, am I?”

Stillwell assured her that it was an HR matter and maybe something for Justice. The Lab was in no way involved in a security issue. They do not even need testimony from lab personnel.

Benefeld offered his two cents before departing, “You know, I love science. I love knowing the different areas of our systems and how they work together for the general good.”

Fleck left, too.

Stillwell touched Charlie on the arm and asked her to stay for a minute. He and Manuel had some news for her. They wanted her to consider something.

Ortiz began, “Charles thinks you’re a good candidate for B.A., and after our meeting today I agree with him. What do you think?

Charlie said she would be honored to serve as a B.A.

Ortiz said, “Good. I’ll improve your merit rating, and I’m sure you’ll
be elected. You know I’m a little hesitant to do this because
you’re so bright. I may be putting my own job at risk. Some BAs
do eventually become All-Sectors Coordinators. Charlie replied that it was not very likely.

Stillwell added his congratulations and told Charlie to let her staff know they are being considered for Directorships by M2C in Sectors 5 and 14. It’s a reward for their good detective work.

Charlie just gushed as she said, “Thank you. I’m sure they’ll be grateful.”

Charlie returned to the Lab feeling like she had put all the problems to sleep and won some kind of victory for herself and for her staff. She saw Mary first and Mary was more than a little anxious about the QA meeting.

She asked, “Well, what happened?”

Charlie put on her most positive voice, “We were right. We have their respect.”

Mary said, “What about, the VR17?”

Instead of answering Mary’s question Charlie just said, “It’s all taken care of.”

Mary insisted on knowing how it was all taken care of.

Charlie then became coy. She said, “The program has been fixed and the security issues have been dealt with.”

Lee decided he would try to get a straight answer from Charlie.
He said, “What does all that mean?”

Charlie then said that it meant they had it all correct down to the dead
viruses. They just didn’t know how the larger system worked.

Lee translated Charlie’s beating around the bush with, “Are you saying that HR intentionally infects everyone, and when we miscount the viruses they somehow regain their lives and keep us all healthy.”

Charlie tried to put Lee in his place by saying, “That sounds rather cynical, Lee.”

Mary seemed to be confused and asked, “Why should they do that, Charlie? What’s the point?”

Charlie explained that the balance achieved in the microbiological realm had to be balanced in the general systems, too. If they eliminated parasites in the human populations, then the natural course of events would be occupational displacement, which would lead to higher rates of morbidity and mortality because of stress. This general economic problem would cause more illness and death than the viruses being infused into the population.

Lee broke his string, “Oh shit! The goddamn social pseudo-scientists are running everything.”

Mary felt like Charlie had sold them out. She ask Charlie twice if she had really bought that story. Charlie told her there was nothing to buy. It was the truth. Mary told her that if that was the truth, then their integrity was lost and they were parties to a lie.

Charlie got angry. She said, “It’s not a lie. Its a clearer understanding of how the world must operate and how the greater good is to be fostered.”

Lee responded in his most cynical voice, saying, “Who says it’s the greater good- Stillwell and Ortiz and that dunce, Benefeld?”

Charlie told him that it was the greater good long before they were in charge.

Mary said she could not tolerate working in a place where the information she used was corrupt and she had no way of knowing it. She couldn’t accept that as a greater good. It was just a plain lie.

Charlie tried to tell her to focus on the outcomes. She asked how much more perfect a system could be that gives every person a full life to age 100 and only a little discomfort?

Lee, in an attempt to correct Charlie’s vision, asked, “What’s magic about the age 100? All we’ve done is dash our hope for something better so that the less intelligent among us can continue to rule.”

Charlie assumed the role of Lab Director again and tried to discipline Lee. She said to Lee, “that’s more harsh than is called for by the circumstances. We are heirs to this system, and we have done our jobs well. It is an accident that we are even involved in this problem. How are you really different today than yesterday?

Mary answered for Lee. She said, “Yesterday we were full of knowledge and we sought the truth. Today we are just fools in someone else’s idea of the good.”

Charlie looked at both of them and said, “You were too proud. We were all too proud. What do we really know? The future always laughs at the past. We will always be shocked by what we didn’t know. I’m not turned away by that fact. I don’t intend to leave my future to chance.”

Lee asked, “Have you sold us out, Charlie?”

Charlie shot back, “Never. You both will be given chances to become directors. I am to become a B.A.”

Mary was crushed. She glared at Charlie and said, “You sold out everyone, didn’t you?”

Charlie continued to defend herself. She said, “I sold out no one. I only gave them the information they already had. They made the decisions about everything.”

Lee asked about Connie and Howard. Charlie told them that Connie and Howard had violated the security law, that their access codes would be deleted, nothing more.

Mary surmised that deletion would end Connie’s and Howard’s careers and they would not take that kind of discipline lying down.

Charlie told them that if Connie and Howard didn’t accept HRC discipline they would be turned over to Justice, and their defenses were very weak. They would not be allowed to discuss the patient or virus issue because that has nothing to do with computer security. It would not be any business of the Lab either.

Lee asked Charlie if she were going to tell them and Charlie told him she was out of the loop. HRC would handle it, and if necessary, Justice.

Mary reflected, “Now we’re people who know, too. Connie and Howard gave us the truth. The system has never given us anything but lies, even if they say it was for our own good. We owe Connie and Howard something.”

Charlie tried to put some distance between herself and what Mary had said. She insisted, “Not me, Mary. Not me. The system knew more than all of us, and I’m not going outside of it to become a fool in another way. There’s more than just this one lie, and you can’t overcome it outside of the system. I have to go now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Lee hated cowards. He told Mary, “She’s where she belongs, among the mediocre. In the end – whenever that is – they will spit her out with the rest of the people they spoiled. I’m going to find a way around these dickheads. The secrets they have, regardless of how many, are worthless if they are anything like the one we have just uncovered.”

Mary told Lee to work on it and she would talk with him later, after she had told Connie about the actions of the QA committee.

Connie had not expected Mary to bring her the news. When Mary arrived Connie knew at once the news was bad. Mary told her without hesitation that she and Howard would lose their access codes to the central computer network.

Connie was crushed. She exclaimed, “ Oh my god! I won’t be able to practice medicine and Howard will loose his job, too.”

Mary tried to console her, but without much success. She told her how very sorry she was.

Connie asked about her patients and about the VR17 they had found and the filter program. Mary told her that the brass knew already. The mouthpiece covers she had used infected the patients with dead viruses. The UniVR400 she gave them revived the viruses. It was all part of a larger plan to balance the economic system by saving medical jobs. It had something to do with avoiding stress and higher morbidity and mortality rates. They knew everything.

Connie’s response was, “Then we’re just fools, aren’t we?”

Mary agreed and said that it made her mad to think about it. Connie was glad to know, because she would have gone crazy otherwise. Everything she thought was wisdom had been shaken. Now that she knew it was a lie, she didn’t care about being an HMC. It was a joke which they could play on someone else. She had decided to tell her patients what was going on and fight whatever consequences came.

Mary told her it was dangerous. Her patients probably wouldn’t believe her. Her story would sound too far-out. Also, she wouldn’t be able to give them any UniVR400 and they would panic and never hear what she was saying. It would be like a philosophy discussion with a man in heat.

Connie said she was going to do it anyway. At least, Howard would listen, and there might be others like him.

Fleck reported what he had being hearing and recording since the QA meeting to Manual Ortiz. He said, “James seems to be okay. You have her, but her staff is out of control. I don’t have anything on them yet, but it’s just a matter of time. I’m sure we’ll have another security problem soon. I’d pick up that A8 Analyzer from Stanley today. He’s the most dangerous one we have to deal with. He’s got too much technical knowledge in addition to the medical experience.”

Ortiz listened and gave the orders, “Go ahead and send HR security to M2C and get the A8 analyzer. I’ll call Charlotte James and have her send her staff to Stillwell’s office to discuss their new merit rating and transfers. That will buy us enough time to see if they are going to blend into the system. If they don’t blend we’ll place them in roles that look important but are out of the flow of information. We’ll let them work on the truth and solutions in the R&D division where the results will be in their next lifetime.”

Fleck told him that Strong was going directly to her patients, but that he would have her picked up on the security violation and send in a new HMC from Sector 5 to see all of her patients. “We’ll tell her patients that she was having personal problems and was having trouble managing her own UniVR400 therapy. I’ve already told Security at Artificial Systems Division to pick up Hogan. He’s probably in custody now.”

Ortiz told Fleck to keep monitoring Charlotte and report to him about how she reacted to the changes. He said, “If she keeps steady we’ll go ahead and move her toward a B.A. post. If she waivers we’ll have to reel her in.”

Fleck asked, “Do I tell Stillwell?”

Ortiz told him, “You don’t have to. He’s not in touch with the ignorance below him. He’s totally focused on the rewards above his present station. He doesn’t care what happens to the people below if it doesn’t affect him. The less everyone knows the better control we will have of this situation.”

Fleck told Ortiz he would keep him informed.

Ortiz laughed.

Faith

Every Thursday, I have lunch with a group of Catholic Workers in Houston, Texas. We discuss our faith. Usually, we have read an essay or excerpt from a book as the basis of our discussion. Often, it is from the writings of Dorothy Day. The group is composed mostly of young people; a few of us are over fifty, yet we are still able to slowly recall some of what we have learned from life and what we have been asked to read. A few members of the group are not Catholics and several others were converts to the Catholic faith in adulthood. Among us there is a general agreement about Christianity and its meaning to mankind, especially the economic and social implications of faith. Most of the people are full-time volunteers at the hospitality houses. Others of us have outside occupations and help with the houses as needed. Each person in the group would like to be a saint, but none of us are very sure how that is done. We presume that the declared and undeclared saints who lived before us and wrote about their lives will shed light on the right paths for us to follow.

One thing we know for sure is that doing the right thing is far from easy. A quote from C.S. Lewis’s essay, “What Are We To Make Of Jesus Christ,” tells us, before we do anything, how hard faith can be:

The things He [Jesus] says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, “this is the truth about the universe. This is the way you ought to go,” but He says, “I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.” He says, “No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.” He says, “If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, your turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself first, you will be last. Come to me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth, I am life. Eat me, drink me, I am your food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole universe.”

Elsewhere, C.S. Lewis said that Jesus was either right in these sayings about Himself, God, and the universe, or He was a lunatic that would make Hitler seem a perfectly sane man by comparison. It is not a question of morality or ethics, but of truth and the destiny of man, there being a general agreement that men know what sin is and that it is best to avoid it. The enumeration of correct behavior has been embraced by other faiths and even by unbelievers. What has not been digested is the claim by Jesus that He is God and that He controls the universe. This is the part of the story that turns off philosophers, theologians, and scientists because it is a complete departure from religion, even granted the moral and ethical underpinnings. Neither is it Myth, as Joseph Campbell wrote in his attempt to weave it into the stories men have created out of awe for what they have seen on the earth and in the skies. Christian faith is either life or it is a lie.

Supposing it to be a lie, and left with a universe that is apparently coming apart and running down, you might respond like Edna St. Vincent Millay who chose to resist Death in “Conscientious Objector” in the only way she could imagine:

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.

I hear him leading his horse out of the stall; I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not tell
him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where the
black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am
not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver
men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me; never through me
Shall you be overcome.

This lyric rings of moral courage, but the sound is weak compared to the bell rung by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:

If the raising of the dead is not a reality, why be baptized in their behalf? And why are we continually putting ourselves in danger? … If I fought those beasts at Ephesus for purely human motives, what profit was there for me? If the dead are not raised, “ Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” … The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed….” Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?

Edna has chosen to hide her friends and her enemies from the authorities, the warmongers, while Paul has chosen to stick it in their faces. That is the difference between poetry and faith; one is sentiment and the other is Life. If indeed Death should reign, I have a strong preference for Paul’s alternative of eating and drinking. The words of poets and of all men sound hollow if there is not a victory to point to and a life beyond death.

Fortunately, faith is a gift. You don’t have to earn it and you can’t claim it and give it to someone else. That takes the heat out of the call to convert the world to Christianity, and it removes the need to make Christian faith a religion, a philosophy, a myth, or a rational construction of the universe.

As C.S. Lewis said, the story is either true or not and you either believe it or you don’t. In either case, it is likely you will choose to live your life as vigorously as you can. But if it is a life based on the gift of faith, you will soon discover that you are in for a tough fight wherever you go. Why? Because you seek a victory over death and victory requires engagement. Such engagement is not found in a dreamland, nor by reduction of a changing universe, but in the exigency of flesh and blood life. Men of faith know that flesh and blood was born in the stars and is a reality being transformed, of which they are witnesses and in which they are active participants.

A poet can ride the wave of death and do in life what he pleases. A man of faith has to confront the hangman with a pardon from God even when the victim is his enemy. He can’t hide his enemies from Death, as would Edna, because it is a dance that cannot be avoided, a fall (S= K log W ) that has transfixed mankind. There are times when each man is a poet, and there are other times when he girds his loins, weeps, and steps between a gun and a life that would be lost. It may be that the best we can do does not count for much in a world that resists transformation. It means that the gift of faith is everything and the alternative is Death, even if courageously delayed by the best of poets.

I have begun to prefer simpler explanations and clearer thoughts. If I must die, I want to smell the gas and hear the screams. I don’t want to be philosophical about anything. I don’t want to go out poetically, with a whimper. Life crashes and bangs about, and Paul says that the return from death is announced by trumpeting. The noise is necessary. It is the signal for engagement and the voice of victory. When the world moans it is because there is life in it. When it laughs it is because men of faith have lifted the burdens from it. The belief is that the Creator is reclaiming the world with flesh and blood He took into Himself. If you suffer, He suffers; if you laugh, He laughs with you.

It is this dance of life that the gift of faith reveals. There is a Christian Community called Bruderhof started by Eberhart Arnold in Germany in the 1920s. His son, J. Heinrich Arnold (1913-1982) became the Pastor of the Bruderhof Community and his friends compiled a book of his letters, sayings, and essays. The book is called Discipleship and it is simple, clear and salty. He conveys the message about Jesus much like C.S. Lewis expressed it and he tried to carry it out in a Community much like the Community of the early Christians. J. Heinrich Arnold wrote:

Often the power of darkness puts fear into our hearts and keeps us from full dedication to God. When Jesus said in the synagogue, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can have no life,” even his followers found these words hard to accept, and many of them left him. But when Jesus asked the Twelve, “Will you also leave me?” Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have faith, and we know you are the holy one of god.” Such faith must live in us too — in our hearts, our souls, and our whole being. It must become a reality in us again and again: not a religious system, not a theory, but the knowledge that we can trust Jesus completely and give him everything — our whole lives — for all eternity. It is not necessary for us to understand everything intellectually. It is much more important to experience trust and faith in our hearts and being.

Apart from Jesus we will find no peace. Where he is, there is God. He is there even for those who leave him, as did many people in his time who found his words too difficult to accept. Therefore we pray for ourselves and for them. “Lord, help us. Come into this world. We need thee, thy flesh, thy death and life, and thy message for the whole creation.”

With the gift of faith and God in control of the universe, you may wonder why J. Heinrich and everyone else wants more help from God. It is because the only weapon allowed in the fight against Death is Love and most of us are unfamiliar with its use. We have romantic notions of it. We see it as a first try before we start swinging our fists. For two thousand years, the faithful have used very little of Love in the fight against murder and death. The problem is that, to use Love, you must be pure. This truth about Love, and the whole moral and ethical realm, was there before Jesus was born. Men knew then, and they know now, that if you lie, steal, cheat, fornicate, murder, act greedy, and remain dumb, you cannot create new life and nourish it. You can’t love through those acts. You can’t get beyond your own decaying flesh. Thus, we plea “Maranatha”—come Lord.

Rejected

I like the beach. I don’t often swim there because the water in Oceanside, California is cold. I like it because of the constant breeze from the sea and the warm sand and the ambient sounds that block out the sharp voices and the crying that has filled so much of my life. I’m here with my last baby watching the waves, letting my hair blow back, digging my toes into the sand, and waiting on someone to come and to say they care about me. I first came here when I was just 15 years old, but I was really much older. I grew up early. I had to. There was no choice. Mama didn’t make enough money to take care of my older brother and me. Sometimes she would put a box of crackers and water bottle in my crib and just leave. Sometimes my grandmother came a got me before the day was over. I had a lot of messy diapers, but I could get them off sometimes. I didn’t know my Daddy very well and he was never there to help. When I was twelve years old I knew the men that Mama knew, sometimes just as well as she knew them. I was a looker, sort of big, not cutesy, fresh, soft, and easy to please. I was tough through, which was why I left. There were people to go with, people from Oceanside, party people, older than me, but not that much older, and not even as wise about all kinds of stuff, and not that tough, not a survivor.

I met Kevin at Mama’s house, a place that was deep in the woods of East Texas. God, I liked him. He could really make love. He liked me, too. I was good at everything, except not always. Sometimes I got mad. That was natural for me, of course. I wasn’t someone who had to lie to make somebody else feel good. I could take care of myself, even then, even now, on this beach with this last baby. I wish it were real. It looks really real and it feels good, but it isn’t like the others. I had ten of them and all of them so good, so pretty, and so smart. I had each of them for a long time. I still have them now, right here on the beach with me, in my heart. I can feel them sucking my breasts. I see them asleep in my arms, but not like this last baby that doesn’t cuddle back, that’s always asleep with his eyes open.

I got pregnant as soon as Kevin took me to Oceanside. It happened every year for four years. We had an apartment about ten blocks from the beach on Vista Oceana. Living there wasn’t too hard and every baby I had was perfect and I was nearly perfect and I didn’t care if they cried, because when I fed them they stopped and when I played with them they laughed. I didn’t leave them in any crib with a box of crackers either and I kept them clean and all dressed up. All of us ran on the beach, my three boys and my little girl. Then Kevin found someone else. He liked to fuck, you know, and we were in Californication. That’s what they do here and in Texas, too. I got really mad, too mad. I kicked his ass and he kicked me back. We still stayed together for a while, but I found another, better man, John, who made me pregnant again. Then Kevin threw me out and he and that bitch he was fucking kept my babies. The Law wouldn’t let me come back. Screw the Law, I said, but I was broke and I had to move in with John. I drove him crazy because he was a doper and a loner and now he had me and his kid that was soon to be born. I couldn’t stop talking about my babies and that bitch and that bastard, Kevin.

I was just twenty when Billy was born. He was a live wire from the start, but he was mine to hold and I couldn’t be kept away from him because of some damn money shit and a little kicking on that bastard and his bitch. You know, I had joint custody, really. I got the papers. We weren’t even married, so I don’t see why the Law acted the way they did. I took care of those babies. They were clean. They had food and clothes and that son-of-a-bitch father had an obligation to take care of them and me, roof, beach and all. But, they threw me out. They gave me to John who couldn’t pass a drug test and was really alone, even with me. I took Billy and got a ride back to East Texas, but I really missed the beach. I needed help from my grandmother who had always been there for me. She could help me get my babies back; give me some money and a place to live. I was still young and not that bad looking, even if I was a little heavy. I was only twenty-two. I still had that glow you get from all the hormones that flood you when you’re pregnant. There were opportunities in Texas and no good ones in Oceanside.

Nothing changes. Six years had passed and Mama was still hustling a buck any way she could. Grandma was there though and she put me up as always even with a one year old in my arms. Grandma’s husband was a drunk, but otherwise harmless. He wasn’t like grandma’s first husband, a fucking bastard who beat her. Mama used to have the get under the house to get away from the fights. But one day he went too far and grandma put a bullet through his chest and dropped him like a rock. The Law didn’t say anything. They knew grandma was just trying to keep from being killed, and her kids were under the house, and there was nothing else she could have done. She sure didn’t look that strong, but you can never tell. I’m like grandma. I don’t run away from trouble either. I just never had a gun. Even if I had a gun, I wouldn’t use it. I don’t drive either. I want to, but I can’t.

I couldn’t get a job and take care of Billy, but I helped out, mostly odd stuff in the neighborhood. Mrs. Carter, Grandma’s neighbor, was old and sometimes I had to sit with her. Her husband had died and she was in pretty bad shape and couldn’t clean and cook and that kind of stuff. I could take the baby with me and she liked to play with him. God, I missed my kids and the beach and everything, but not those two worthless bastards that threw me out. At least, John didn’t get Billy. And there is nothing he could do about me taking him to Texas. Ha! the Law, it can’t be everywhere and they don’t really want to waste time on crazy women and their babies.

Well, what do think happened when I showed up in the old neighborhood? There was Walter, a friend of my older brother. He lived right next to Mrs. Carter’s house. I remembered him from the pot parties my mother had. He and my brother would try to play guitars and sing. They were terrible, but they were fun to party with. Walter was good looking with big muscles and he was smart. After I went to California, Walter had gotten into trouble over drunk driving and had been put on probation. Still he had gotten his GED and gone to college for two years. He kind of stood-out in our group because he read and knew all that book stuff. Anyway, he was living at home, but had a job at the college cafeteria because he had gone to Chef School after he got his GED. He was on the outs with his parents most of time and he lived in their old house on the front of their property. His parents stayed in town most of time, just to be away from him, or so he said.

Walter and his dad had been going at it since Walter was thirteen. He had trouble at school and had taken a knife with him for protection. He started showing it around which got him kicked out. After they kicked him out, he cut the tires on the car of the principal and that was the last straw. The school was not going to take him back. When his dad picked him up from the school he threw Walter into the back of the car and yelled at him about the cut tires and the knife. When his dad started the car, Walter got a battery cable from the floor and put it around his dad’s neck from behind and began to choke him. But he decided not to kill him. He still had some sense of not going too far. About two weeks later he decided that he would kill him and he took a butcher knife from the kitchen and backed his dad from the house. His mother saw what was happening threw his dad a French rolling pin she had in the kitchen. When Walter tried to stab him, his dad hit him on the head with the rolling pin. Walter said he fell like a rock, paralyzed on his right side. His dad thought he had killed him. Walter recovered in about a week from the head injury, but didn’t really recover mentally and that’s why his parents left their house rather than confront him. It wasn’t all of the time that things were sideways, and often they would be in the same house for weeks before Walter would go off mentally. I didn’t know any of this stuff at the time I returned to the neighborhood. I was innocent, well, as innocent as I could be under my circumstances.

Billy and I moved in with Walter. I got pregnant right away. Walter’s mom and dad decided to come back to their house and his dad said he would rent us an apartment if we would move out. We took him up on the offer and found a pretty nice place in Cleveland. We lived on the food stamps I got and the money we got from hocking stuff we stole from Walter’s mom and dad. Walter found work as a carpenter and he felt good for the first time in years.

Walter’s dad gave us his 87 Ford, a trailer, some tools, and he paid the rent on our apartment. I grew bigger and finally bore my sixth child, Allen. He was big and healthy and very pretty. In the hospital, I raised hell with the nurses and threw my food tray on the floor. You know how they look at you when you’re on welfare. Even when you’re poor the food service doesn’t have to be bad. It was like being stuck in that crib again with a box of crackers. Walter’s mom and dad came to see us during my fit and they left as soon as they could after seeing the baby.

Walter and I watched TV, took care of the babies, and fought. I expected him to support me and he was spaced-out most of the time. I lost the fights with Walter, but afterward I would go to the emergency room and call the police. Then, I would lie to the police about who had beaten me. Once I gave the name of Walter’s brother, Mike, who lived in Austin with his wife. Mike had to correct that lie with the police and it was no easy matter. Apparently, when someone accuses the wrong person of a crime that wrong person can’t just get his name off the record without some proof that he’s the wrong person. I didn’t know anything like that would happen.

Christmas came. Walter and I arrived with the children at his mom’s and dad’s house. My face was covered with makeup to hide the bruises Walter had given me. The family gasped and swallowed and shuffled their feet and wondered what the hell kind of people we were. We didn’t give a shit. Everyone else had it made. We did what we had to do and what we wanted to do.

Walter’s mom and dad had sixteen acres in the quiet woods , but where their house was located it went underwater during the floods. They decided to build a new house on the highest spot they had seen when the water had risen. They paid Walter and some other carpenters he worked with to help them with the construction. Walter was very good and very strong but he was still angry with his dad from all that had happened years before. Sometimes Walter worked and sometimes he pretended to work.

Years before, when Walter had attempted to stab his dad and had gotten clubbed, his dad had resolved never to engage in physical violence again, regardless of the consequences. He would be a true pacifist, like Martin of Tours. So, Walter tested his resolve. He and his helper had built the foundation of a deck in front of the living room of the new house. It was to be covered with treated 2”x 6” planks. Instead, they had nailed treated ¾” ply on the foundation joists. When Walter’s dad arrived and saw the mistake he told them they had to remove the ply and replace it with the planks. Walter got very angry about having to do the work again and blamed his dad for the mistake. He said his dad gave poor instructions. Walter refused to help. He said the ply was good enough. The helper and his dad removed the plywood. His dad told him that if he was angry and could not work he should go home and come back when he was calm again. I suppose Walter didn’t hear the part about coming back when he was calm because he took his dad’s order as a threat to fire him. He picked up a survey stake, walked quickly toward his dad, and tried to hit him in the head with the stake. His dad blocked it with his left forearm and his arm broke with a loud snap, a baton break, as the doctors called it. The helper yelled at Walter not to do it the whole time he was going toward his dad. The helper took Walter home. His dad went to the hospital and told them he had fallen off a latter. His arm healed. Walter’s mind healed a little. In a few weeks he went back to his dad and helped him finish the house. It took about six months and it’s a very interesting place. Later he built a house for me, too, but I never got it.

I still missed my older kids and I talked Walter into going to California. He thought he could escape his probation problems and I thought I could be near my other children. I assumed that Walter could find carpenter work there, avoid the probation officers in Cleveland, and we could fix our relationship. We left a few days before the probation officers were to arrest Walter in Cleveland. It was amazing to me that it took so long for the officers to even try to arrest him. He had ignored them for two years and they knew where he was. They had changed his probation officer three times and I guess he just got lost in the paper shuffle.

Our trip to California would have been better accomplished in a covered wagon. The car and trailer were loaded to the gill. The car over-heated in the Arizona Desert. Walter’s dad wired us money for radiator repairs and a motel room. He thought the babies might die there. His cousin’s baby had died going through that Desert in her car. It made him worry, spurred him to send us some more money.

When we got to California, we stayed with my ex-common law, Kevin, for about two weeks. Kevin and Walter got into a fight. Kevin told us to leave. Walter never really looked for a job, but told me he couldn’t find one that paid enough to get us a place to live. We camped out in a motel. We fought again. I wanted to stay and I wanted Walter to do something to make that happen. My kids were just down the street and I could see them when I wanted and nobody could stop me. Why shouldn’t Walter just get a job and make us a life? Why not? That was the fight and I was right. The police arrested Walter and then they released him. A few days later they found out he was wanted for probation violations in Texas and they arrested him again. They held him for extradition by the Texas Court, but the Texas Court did not respond, so they released him again.

I gave up arguing with Walter about what he could do in California. We packed the car and went back to Houston. We lost half of our stuff. Walter told his dad he was going to turn himself in to the Law when he returned, but he did not. We rented a trailer house near Cleveland and Walter started back to work as a carpenter. The Law could wait.

When we first moved into the trailer I had words with the landlady over the electric bill. The landlady had a policy of collecting the electric bill each week in advance of the due date, so if a tenant skipped out the owners would not be stuck with an unpaid bill. The weekly bills got very high. I thought we were being cheated, rather than that we were using so much electricity. Next, the stove caught fire because of bad wiring and the conflict with the landlady got worse. Then, I stepped on a weak board on the porch, it broke, and I hurt my leg. I called the landlady and she took me to the hospital. I don’t drive, you know. Finally, Allen, our baby, fell out of the back door while I was in the bathroom. There was no back porch and he broke his arm when he hit the ground. The landlady blamed me for not watching the baby. I was there. I didn’t leave. I blamed the landlady for a missing porch and a bad door lock.

At last, the police found Walter. They took him to Montgomery County Jail and set a bail that no one had a desire to pay. He stayed three months before he could get a hearing. Because he served so much time in jail they reinstated his probation and medicated him for a bipolar condition that their doctor had diagnosed. He felt like a changed man and he appreciated a new start. We had been visiting him at the jail every week and seeing us through the plastic window and talking to us on a stupid phone was just inspiring enough to make Walter want to change. He missed touching people. He went to work full-time at a good carpenter job. He kept in touch with his probation officer.

While he had been in jail, his mom and dad moved me and the children into an apartment near a school and stores. I started cleaning some apartments to make a little money, but I never made enough to pay any expenses. I had fallen off welfare which requires frequent contact to remain eligible. The welfare office was 30 miles away and there was no public transportation and I cannot drive. I have always depended on others for wheels and my demands are often so frequent that my family does not always want to respond.

When Walter returned from jail to the apartment his mom loaned him her old truck so he could get to work and the family could get around. We decided to get married so that we could start a normal life. After six children, four of them lost, I thought getting married might give me some protection. He wanted to be my legal husband and the legal father of Allen. I was twenty-six. We thought we were finally in control of our lives, and then Walter forgot the rules again, I didn’t really know what the rules were.

Walter had hocked an old shotgun before he went to jail. It belonged to his friend, Bubba, and he wanted to recover it and give it back to him. He reclaimed it, took it home and put it in the closet. One night he and I got into an argument, and then a fight and the fight carried outside. The neighbors called the police. Walter took Billy and Allen went to his mom’s and dad’s house. I filed assault and battery charges against him. How could he just take the kids and leave? He had scratch marks, bite marks, and bruises, but he was out of there. I had bruises on my face and neck. The cops saw me and they knew I was hurt. I went into house and got the shotgun and told them it was Walter’s. He was gone. They could go get him.

Walter went to work the next day. He brought Billy back but left Allen with his mom. This routine went on for two days until the probation officer called and told him to come to her office for a meeting. The police and I went to his mom’s and dad’s house while he was at work and we took Allen. That afternoon he went to the meeting with the probation officer and about fifty ATF officers arrested him for felony possession of a firearm. Of course, he didn’t have a firearm, but there was that broken one of Bubba’s that the police had gotten from me when we had the fight. He was taken directly to Liberty County Jail.

His mom and dad continued to pay the rent and utilities for my apartment. It became clear that Walter would be gone for a long time because there was a minimum federal sentence of 27 months for a felon having a firearm. So, his mom and dad decided they had to relocate me where I could get work and help. At least that’s how they saw it. I just went along with the move while working on some way I could get back to Oceanside. There was no transportation and no money, but I knew I’d get some kind of break after all the abuse and nonsense. I didn’t need no prayers, just guts. I dropped the assault and battery charges against Walter even though he had said nothing to me about doing that. I still loved him and thought he had been punished enough already. It was just another fight and I could shake it off and he was locked up anyway.

Walter’s dad was not sure where I and the two babies should live. He had some friends, Carl and Nelly and their two sons, who lived near his offices. He had met them while both were trying to care for some guy named Nick, whom they all knew from their Church. Nick had hepatitis. Carl and Nelly had given up their trailer for Nick, since otherwise he would not have been able to get to the bathroom. They had to be careful handling him. He would spit blood and he would get his feces on the bed sheets and in the bathroom. After a few weeks, Nick went to the hospital and after a few days he was transferred to a nursing home. Carl and Nelly had done something for Nick that neither Walter’s dad nor any of the church volunteers had done for anyone. His dad was very impressed and very humbled. I didn’t know them, but I’ve seen lots of shit and do-good stuff is a real luxury for the rich.

Without me knowing, his dad told Carl and Nelly that his Charity Organization would help them finish their house. Then his dad had the bright idea that I might be able to help them with the labor. At the same time, his dad had another lady staying at the Charity’s hospitality house who was from a Catholic Worker Farm in Washington. She wanted to care for children and she could drive a car. I had children, needed a driver for the small errands, and with that kind of help would be free to contribute to the building of Joseph’s and Nelly’s house. His dad thought, ”What a great idea.” He would supply the money to support all of these people in need of God’s blessings. Wow! he could buy happiness without actually being committed to the work and the people. He was glad to see that me and the boys had some help. He thought we would all work together and be happy and his trouble with us would be over.

He talked to Carl and Nelly about his idea. They said okay, there was room for another trailer in the front of their property and they would connect it to their electricity and water. The women and the children could stay there. He talked with me and Ellen. We agreed that it was a good idea, and that we could share the childcare and the construction work Joseph was doing. He went to a trailer dealer and purchased a large travel trailer. The dealer moved it to Joseph’s property. Ellen and I took the Charity’s station wagon and moved my stuff from my old apartment to the new trailer. There was too much stuff. Oddly enough, the majority of stuff was toys and clothes.

I had too many kids and I had bought the boys enough extruded plastic toys to build the Sears Tower in spite of my never having a penny for food, shelter, transportation, or utilities. The most irritating part of my move was having toys playing stupid jingles over and over again using up their little batteries. We were not able to find the toys to kill the noise in the piles of clothes and other junk. Ellen and I and the singing toys tried to sort it all out over the weekend.

In Walter’s dad’s clear vision of how the ideal world should work and how his money would let him avoid it, he saw two grateful young women, hope in their hearts, carefully storing everything necessary in the little trailer, and setting aside the junk in boxes to be stored neatly elsewhere. Then, when everything was in good order, we would play with the children, hug them, read stories to them and put them to bed. Then we would have a nice cup of tea and sit outside under the new trailer canopy talking of what great blessings had come to those who love God from those who try to buy heaven.

Instead, what we did was fill up both the trailer and the yard with boxes, clothes, and toys, go to the grocery store and charge a bunch of groceries, cigarettes, cosmetics and paper diapers and return to try to stuff those in the trailer too. Ellen decided to crawl into bed and smoke. I tried to cook in that tiny trailer and burned a bunch of greasy food on the stove, which I could not take apart and clean.

On Monday Ellen was the first to try to help Carl with the building, but she wandered off after picking up a board. Carl found her back in the trailer watching a soap opera. I decided to help Carl with the construction while Ellen watched the babies. The babies wandered off from Ellen and into the construction site. Allen climbed a thirty-foot latter to the top of a light pole. Carl found my five-year-old Billy hidden in the construction debris. Ellen was having a smoke while watching the soap opera again.

Carl and I knew that something was wrong with Ellen; she just wasn’t into anything except sleeping, eating and smoking. Walter’s dad decided to send Ellen back to Washington. He tried to buy her a one-way ticket, but only round trips were available for a cheap price. He hoped she didn’t notice that there were return trip stubs. He called the Catholic Worker Farm and told them what had happened. He told them he couldn’t figure out how to get Ellen to work. They sympathized; they said not to worry about it. If she showed up there they’d see what they could do again.

I was left taking care of the babies full time and Carl was left without any help building his house. Also, Carl decided that the trailer needed a porch and a fence around it so the babies would not get into the construction site. I needed to go someplace every day; the store, the welfare office, or to the school. Carl hauled me around in the station wagon since I couldn’t drive. He complained that I charged too much at the store on the Charity’s account. I got angry with him in the store and yelled in front of the store manager, which embarrassed him.

I enrolled Billy into Kindergarten. I told them he was hyperactive and had a severe attention deficit disorder. I said the other school forced me to give him medications. They told me they would like to make their own determinations after Billy had been in school for a while. They also told me that Billy could not wear an earring and must have school uniforms. I said I would call my lawyer, could I have a phone. The principal said “Fine, Mrs. Williams, as soon as you complete the enrollment form you will find the dismissal form completed next to it.” I took the earring from Billy’s ear and dressed him in the school uniform.

The school reported that Billy would not stay seated on the bus. Consequently, he could not ride it because it endangered the other students. The school was only two miles from my trailer. I could either find a way to get him there or solve the staying-seated problem. The school said that once Billy was in school he was fine. They were still not certain he needed any medication. He was behind for his age but capable of learning and catching up. When I came to pick him up at school he did not want to go with me and clung to the teacher’s leg. He is such a little bastard. I never hit him or did anything to him but love him. They thought that was peculiar behavior and I guess it must have seemed that way to people who can’t tell that a baby is wired up. “Usually”, the Counselor said, “five year olds stick to their mothers and don’t go readily to strangers.” They didn’t know all that child had seen and heard in his few short years with Walter and me.

The first person to blame for anything is the person next to you, if you don’t mind if they get shot. Carl and I began to complain about each other and I started writing to Walter about my complaints. I told him Carl was a sex pervert who touched me and I had told my mother and my grandmother about it, but they said to keep quiet because no one would believe me. Carl said I came to his house half -dressed and went around outside with almost nothing on and flirted with his teenage boys and abused and ignored my children. I didn’t do any of that stuff. I couldn’t help that his teenage boys wanted to sneak around my trailer and look at me. I wrote a long accusatory letter to Walter about Carl’s sexual harassment, but before mailing it showed it to his sons and his neighbors. Fuck him, I thought. I was not the pervert. He said I was trying to destroy his family and his relationships with his neighbors. I told him all of his neighbors knew he was a pervert, they had told me so. Carl said one neighbor almost destroyed his boys by giving them marijuana and they might say anything about him because he had their son arrested. According to him, it was all lies.

Walter’s dad went with Carl to buy boards for the porch he was building in front of the trailer. He asked Carl to talk about my claims. Carl explained everything in much more detail than was expected. It went on and on. He said he never touched me except to remove my leg from the gas when I was speeding while driving the car and he couldn’t get me to quit speeding. I don’t drive, you know. He said I was forever parading around in front of everyone in my nightclothes. He told me he didn’t want to have any woman but his wife. He was crippled and could not take this kind of talk. He said I promised his sons cigarettes and cigars if they would go along with my story about the sexual harassment. He said I had to leave if I continued to interfere with his family. Then he started about how his wife had had an affair a few years ago with a young man who was staying with them. It was a heart breaker for him, but she had repented, and things were going well now. His sons had told him about it and Nelly had admitted it.

Walter’s dad listened with a cloud over his head. He couldn’t get out of his mind that I had said the reason Carl made advances toward me was to get even with his wife. How would I know about his wife? Did Carl tell me? Did his son’s tell me?

Now, Walter’s dad had to unwind his supposed good idea. He had to find places where everyone could survive and be truthful. Maybe he didn’t have to do it. Maybe he only had to let everyone know what he was willing to do that he thought might help. Then we could take it or leave it. And, as usual, when you deal with the Money, you take it.

I got approved for welfare again. I had food stamps and Medicaid. My ex-boyfriend, Billy’s father, sent me $150 and suggested that I bring Billy and come back to California. The school had kicked Billy off the bus and I had taken him out of school to go to the doctor. Walter’s dad went to the school and talked with the principal and a counselor. He didn’t have any right to do that, but the school just gives out rights to people they think have power. They said they were worried about the children because they had not asked me to take Billy out of school for any reason.

Walter’s dad came to see me at the trailer. Carl had taken me and the babies to the doctor’s office. He waited a few minutes and Carl returned alone. Carl said he had gone to four clinics before I found one that would accept my Medicaid card. He had left me at a pediatric clinic on Broadway. Billy had two black eyes. I had told the school nurse he bumped into a door. Carl said Billy often appeared too sleepy and would lie down on the ground outside. I told them I was out of the medication the doctor had given Billy twenty days earlier. That meant thirty pills were missing and I guess Billy just through them away.

I called Carl from the clinic for someone to pick me up. Carl and Walter’s dad came to get me. When they arrived I was walking toward the clinic from a service station about a block away. I had new prescriptions in hand and I was pissed off by all the hassle and crap I get from everyone. After the babies and I got into the car, Walter’s dad asked me about the missing pills, like it was any of that SOB’s business. He told me he had also spoken with the school about Billy. I told him it was none of his business and he should get out of my life. I said Carl was a lying pervert and was trying to destroy me. I had the pills at home, somewhere, and that he would have to apologize when I found them and showed them to him.

We arrived at the trailer and Walter’s dad waited while I looked through everything. I didn’t find any more pills. Shortly afterward, my grandmother came. I had called her to come from Splendora, a town about fifty miles from the trailer location. I told the do-gooders I was going to my mama’s house to chill-out for a few days. I took some clothes. Walter’s Dad told me he would find another location for my trailer and he’d let me know about it.

What he did was sell the trailer and call the Children’s Protective Services and tell them he was concerned about the safety and welfare of the children. He told them about the missing pills and the black eyes and Allen being seen in the street when his mother was not around. They said they would investigate promptly.

He told me, my mama, and my grandma that he would take care of the children during the week so I could find a job and support them. I knew he just wanted to take my babies away from me. I did not even answer. I knew he did not like caring for babies. I don’t know any men that like taking care of my babies.

The CPS went to my mama’s house and began the investigation of me. As soon as they arrived I called Walter’s dad to tell him what a bastard I thought he was for reporting me. I had already convinced the cop that I was a good mother and that the cop told me I didn’t have to let him visit the children again. Walter’s dad asked me to let him talk with my mama.

I gave Mama the phone. She told him the CPS had placed the children and me in her custody until they completed their investigation. In the next breath, she told him her rent was due, her car was broken down, and she had only twenty dollars. She had been given an eviction notice and expected to move to another place in thirty days. Further, the apartment was for one occupant and if security knew we were there she would have to go sooner.

I decided to write another letter to Walter in prison to tell him how I had filed charges against Carl for sexual molestation and that I was divorcing him to be rid of the threat of losing custody of my children. I was also going to get money from Billy’s father, and take the boys with me to California.

After Walter received the letter he called his dad from prison. He wanted to know where the boys were and if I was really off to California. His dad told him I wanted to go, but I and my whole family were waiting on the money to fall from the sky. Walter said he was concerned about the boys being at my mama’s apartment because she had been arrested and jailed a year before for prostitution. She also had dealt drugs in the past. He had been in her house when she was doing it. Of course, I said he was a liar.

Walter told his dad that I was wanted in Oceanside for failure to appear on a charge of selling narcotics at a Motel. I told his dad I worked at a Motel in Oceanside for six months cleaning forty-two rooms a day, yet still had to pay them $600 a month for a room. Life’s a crock.

I didn’t see Walter’s mom and dad for ten months. They filed suit against me for the right to visit with Allen. In Texas, the state has a law that gives grandparents visitation rights. I filed an objection but I failed to appear at the trial. The Judge granted them visitation one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer and at Christmas. Also, I had to tell them where I lived at all times.

In November of 2000 my mama, the children and I were evicted from her apartment. My mama went to my grandma’s house to live. The children and I went to Star of Hope Mission in Galveston, near the beach. My mama and my grandma would not allow us to stay with them. During the time I was with mama I had pawned all of her stuff that was worth more than a few dollars. My mama said I had beaten her and that we screamed at each other all of the time. That’s not as true as it may sound to an outsider.

Neither Children’s Protective Services nor the lawyers Walter’s mom and dad consulted thought that the court would take the children away from me. I had my way, the hard way, for a while. The beach in Galveston is nothing like to one in Oceanside. The water is muddy and there are tar balls and oil slicks from time to time. But, there is a breeze and the low sounds the water makes when the waves roll in. Being there was better than sitting in the Star of Hopelessness building all day. Taking care of two babies outside all day is no fun. Being alone is no fun, but sometimes you meet people. They see you with the babies and they speak and you can turn the conversation your way without much effort. It’s not begging really, it’s just being human. Some people know it and they give you a little money, not much, but enough to make them feel good, a few bucks. They pay down on their little piece of heaven. So, sometimes, the babies and I got to go to McDonald’s instead of the Star of Hopelessness. The boys loved it; the plastic balls in the bins, the slides, the stuff to climb on, the ketchup and the mystery chicken. I was glad to get a hamburger and coke and to sit in a chair and use a clean restroom. I didn’t get any looks from the kids working there either. They don’t care who comes to McDonald’s if they have cash.

The weather changes so you can’t stay on the beach forever and it dangerous because the Law checks on you. Usually, they don’t want the hassle of asking a poor woman with two babies what she is doing because they might have to smell a diaper or hold a crying child. So, they drive around you and give you that look, like, “you better not be here when we come back.” Being the beach cops is supposed to be about looking at asses and boobs and getting some sucker for having pot, it’s not supposed to be about social services and the human things that go on with the toss-outs. You know, they don’t ID you at the Star of Hopelessness, so you just can’t whip out a laminated card to show the Law that you’re not a vagrant. After you’re a “SOH guest” for a while the time just runs out. You have to go away and let some other mother take your bed. I didn’t wait that long. I found a little Patel motel where they needed someone to clean rooms and I traded them for a place to stay. It was a dignity deal and it gave me a little glow inside except for the cheapness of it. I have never seen sheets and towels with so few threads that bugs could crawl through them and water wouldn’t stick to them. I was there, and I worked, but I was never part of the crew or the family. I was a non-wage slave, but I was not someone’s ticket to heaven, at least, for a few weeks, until more Patels arrived and there was no more need for foreign slaves.

I hustled enough money to call my grandma again and ask her to please come get me and take me to her house. Walter’s Dad had hired a private detective to find me, but he wasted his money because the city was big and I moved around. They checked the usual places; hospitals, jails, the missions, the streets, but they got cold leads. I didn’t find out about the search until I got back to Splendora and the Sheriff served me with the lawsuit from Walter’s mom and dad that demanded visitation as grandparents. So what, it didn’t matter. They were okay, just stupid do-gooders, out-of-touch, trapped by Walter’s needs even though he was locked up in prison. At least, I would get a break once or twice a month.

Grandma had a friend who had an old trailer she wasn’t using any more and we got to live in it. It was shit, but not much worse than every other place I’ve lived. At least we had a TV and a yard and trees everywhere. Mrs. Carter still needed help, so I got a little money every week and some food stamps and I got back on Medicaid. Hopelessness fades a little when you’re not so desperate for a house and food and not praying for the heaven-bound to keep you on their worthy list. Sainthood built by scattering alms along the footpaths of misery does not balance the misery of picking up the alms. I suppose that is why miserable people like me seem so wise in the presence of the alms-givers who have monetized the relief of suffering and made rules that at least 10% of the contributions actually help someone. I was just glad to be off the footpath and into a house in the woods.

Billy and Allen gave me joy and comfort and a big mess and lots to do, but I missed my first four and I pined for them and dreamed of them and I hated that bastard that kept them from me. I missed what had been and the closeness of their bodies that was taken violently and without any tears, but those I shed alone. It’s all in my head and that’s why I kick at people when I can when I’m angry.

Walter’s mom and dad came right on schedule every month to get Allen. I asked them to take Billy too or he would cry and be lonely. They took them both. Once they took them to visit Walter in Prison which I thought was okay because Walter loved them and I didn’t want to keep him from his sons and hurt him like I hurt because of the sons and daughter I’ve lost. I was scared though because they were powerful compared to me and the little I had was being watched. They had ideas that the few genes they contributed to Allen made them responsible for someone who is not their own and who is wound into my life like a ray of hope and the evidence of my motherhood. They could never be for him what I am by nature and desire regardless of how desperate my life is. I wanted them and I didn’t want them. That kind of slavery can’t be broken at this time and in this place.

I wanted to go the California so bad. Billy’s dad, John, started coming to Houston to visit while Walter was in prison, but he could never get together enough money to move us all back to Oceanside. He started sending me $150 a month for Billy’s child support. I wrote to Walter that I wanted to go back to California with John. He came unglued and demanded that his dad do something about it. Neither Walter nor his dad could do anything about it, but I couldn’t pull the money together to go. I was stuck and a few months later Walter was released from prison. When he got out I was pregnant, but I didn’t tell him for about a month. The first week after he got out he stayed with his mom and dad. The boys were with them the weekend he was released. So, he thought maybe he could just keep Allen, but his parents told him that would violate the visitation rights they had gotten after over a year in court while they were trying to find me. So, when the boys came back home he came too and made up with me. There was a lot of baggage. He blamed me for getting him sent to prison because I gave the cops the shotgun. But he blamed himself just as much because he was violent and really scary. He just didn’t scare me. I’ve seen more shit than anyone and if I couldn’t fight I’d be dead.

It was okay for about ten months. Walter got a job at the college helping in the gym and he started building us a house on property that his mom had inherited from her mother. We started seeing a marriage counselor once a week and Walter decided to tell everyone I was pregnant and it was his child. I didn’t tell him to say that, but he said that legally it was his child and that was good enough. When she was born I tried to not list his name on the certificate, but I couldn’t do it. We had a few words about it, but it passed. She was such a pretty baby and I was so happy to have another girl. I called her Oceana Blue because Vista Oceana was a street in California where I wanted us to be and blue was the color of the water at the beach there. I think Oceana wanted to be there too because when I said her name she smiled and hugged me.

It’s just when things seem to be okay, that they are not okay. There must be an alignment of ordinary acts between people that are understood and easy to do. Since I don’t drive and going anywhere is always at someone else’s convenience, I try to make every trip count. I don’t know when I’ll get another ride without the asking or the begging. Walter and I went to the counselor for our regular weekly visit. On the way home I asked him to stop at the store so I could get some food and stuff. He didn’t want to stop. I demanded that he stop and he told me no, it wasn’t necessary, we didn’t need anything. It’s not like we had great plans to do anything else and I called him names and he called me names and by the time we got home it was a war. It continued for about thirty minutes after we got home until he pushed me and told me to leave. Everything I owned was there and he acted as if he was going to keep the babies too. All I could think of was what Kevin had done to me and how I got pushed out of his house and my first four babies were just taken, like I was nothing, like I was not really their mother.

Such anger cannot be contained. I walked to my grandmother’s house and called the cops and told them Walter had assaulted me and was holding my children. They knew him well. They had put him in jail before. The cops came and I met them at Walter’s mom’s and dad’s house. They escorted me into the house and asked that the babies be given to me, which Walter’s mom did. Walter wasn’t there. The cops told Walter’s mom to have Walter come out to the street to meet with them to talk about the family dispute. His mom found him outside and drove him to the front of the property. He would not go to the street to meet the cops. Instead, when they came toward him and said they were going to arrest him he ran. He was very fit and fast and they were not. They called for back-up, but he got away completely. The next day he got an attorney, surrendered himself, and made bond.

I got my babies, but I didn’t get my stuff. The next night I got my cousin to help me go over to the William’s old house where Walter and I lived and we started unloading my stuff. Walter wasn’t there that night. It was the first night he was in hiding, but his parents called the cops and they stopped us and sent us back to my grandmother’s house. He was not going to win, I was. Not again, I told myself. The Law hates him, not me. It wasn’t California and I wasn’t twenty years old.

Walter came back after he posted bond, but stayed in his parent’s house at the back of their property. I saw him go by my grandmother’s house for three days, and then one Saturday afternoon when I saw him pass by I got my cousin to take me to get my stuff again. Walter had nailed the doors shut, but we broke in and I started loading my stuff into my grandmother’s van. Walter came back unexpectedly. He saw me in the drive way carrying a box. I looked him right in the eye and he ran over me with his car. The neighbor saw what happened and came running to help me. The neighbor threw a cider block through the back of Walters car to stop him from running over me again. Then Walter backed his car over him and over me. He broke my foot and the neighbor’s leg, but he thought he had killed us. We made a big thump-thump sound like he had hit two dogs. When he got to the street, he stopped, took Oceana from grandmother’s car and left as fast as he could drive. My grandmother was screaming and the neighbor’s wife was yelling for help and crying. I was afraid to move. I hurt all over my body. It took the ambulance about twenty minutes to get to the house. The cops got there first. They didn’t do anything to help but talk on their radios. I guess they were sending out alerts about Walter. They assured me they would get him and he would go back to prison. They never did get him.

About an hour after Walter had run over me with his car and had taken my baby girl, the cops got a call from Walter’s aunt. She told them Walter had brought Oceana to her house and had left his car, taken a bottle of pills, swallowed them and run into the woods behind her house. She said that the Sheriff was searching the woods for him already. I told the cop I thought he would likely get away and when they didn’t catch him that night I knew he had escaped. I heard rumors from people we knew that they had seen him several times. I called the cops every time I heard a rumor. They hung out around his parent’s house and his aunt’s house for about a month, but he never turned up. His dad said Walter had called him and told him that he had killed me and maybe the neighbor and that he was going to kill himself, but that he loved his kids and was taking the baby to his Aunt’s house. I didn’t believe him about the suicide. Two years later his skull was brought to a house near his Aunt’s property by a little dog. It could have been his dog. He liked little dogs and he liked babies, too. He didn’t like me and he hated prison. Death was better, but it’s not right because it doesn’t end anything, it just spreads the misery like a big rock dropped into a lake. Everybody in the lake gets a little of the wave.

I was surprised by the peace that settled on my house without Walter there. After many years of trying to get a HUD apartment, I had finally “qualified” and I, Billy, Allen and Oceana had a two bedroom unit right in the middle of town walking distance from everything. After a few months Walter’s mom and dad found me and they started seeing Billy and Allen every two weeks. It was okay. It was a break. Oceana liked them, too. They held her and played with her when they came to pick up the boys.

John started coming to Cleveland to see me. He was paying the $150 a month in child support and wanted to see Billy. He stayed with us when he came to town. He was still doing drugs, but he worked and it didn’t bother him and he wasn’t an obvious drunk like he could have been if he had used alcohol. No one knew for sure if Walter was dead. There was no proof yet, even though his dad had had two search parties look all over the woods around where he was last seen. He was fading from our memories. I had to go on with finding a way back to California. John was not helping me do that and I was not getting by very well on the government notions of help to women with children.

Finally, I got pregnant again. I was already fat, having not lost much weight after Oceana was born, and Walter’s mom and dad did not know I was pregnant. I had Medicaid, the doctor’s office and the hospital were walking distance and it was all pretty routine for me. I thought, “Well, what does it matter, four is no harder to do than three.” But, there was something I had not considered. All of my babies had been easy births and well. They were no problems. Then, David was born. He was pretty, but in a few days he got diarrhea. I had been rushed out of hospital in one day. It was the new plan created by the government that paid the hospitals more for doing less. I was alone with all of the children and I still felt like shit. Some neighbors helped me look after the older children and I drug myself to the doctor’s office with David to try to get some medical help.

The only Medicaid pediatrician in town was about a mile from the apartment. He made appointments with everyone starting a 9 AM and then didn’t come to his office until about 11 AM. The waiting room was always full of sick babies and poor women. I waited with David for five hours the first time I had to see him. He gave me some Pedi-lite and formula and a prescription for something. I went home and started David on the stuff and the drugs, but nothing worked. In a few days he got really sick and I thought he was going to die. I gave up, but then I decided I’d go back to that damn doctor. I went and waited in his office for four hours and he never came, so I went back home. When I arrived, I just collapsed on the bed after putting David in his crib. Billy and Allen saw how bad he looked and Billy tried to feed him and hold him, but got scared and went to the neighbors. When they came and saw David they called an ambulance and CPS and took David to the hospital. CPS then came to my apartment and took Billy and Allen and told me I would have to go to a hearing with the court to talk about my situation. I just broke down. I called my mama and grandma to come get me and I called John in California and told him what happened. He said he would come right away.

You know those nature shows where the zebra and her colts are cut off from the herd and the hyenas are watching and getting into position so they can get the colts and the mama can do nothing about it. The male zebras who would protect them are gone with herd. She kicks at the hyenas, but they bite her legs, but it’s her colts they want and she gives up and the hyenas win. I didn’t know John would betray me. I guess I did know how much vengeance he had for my taking Billy so many years before. When CPS took my kids, John called Walter’s dad and told him.

Ordinarily, a woman like me gets a break in dealing with the Law, because they’re busy and you’re not worth the trouble. But when a do-gooder sees a chance to grab some babies and has a little money to do it, you’re fucked. They set a hearing just three days after they took my kids and if all had gone as I expected they would have returned them to me because I had the support of my mama and grandma and a place to live and I could have explained about David and that no good doctor and my frustration and the fact that I had always taken care of my kids. But, when I got to court there was Walter’s mom and dad, their lawyer with a lawsuit in hand, and a bunch of papers saying my mother was had been arrested for prostitution and that I was wanted in California for drug violations. Further, they passed around pictures of David taken at the hospital after they had admitted him which caused the women lawyers from CPS to cry out loud. I didn’t have a chance and I didn’t even get to defend myself. I got mad because I knew the setup, but I should have cried and begged. When the judge granted the motion to give custody of all of my children to Walter’s mom and dad, I went into hallway, fell on the floor and cried beyond all control, as if someone would hear and care. They didn’t. I got what they thought I deserved. I wasn’t the hyena. They were the hyenas, all of them, the heaven buyers, the tare, the justification for the angel’s fires.

I was alone for the first time in years in a HUD apartment that was too big for me. I still had some friends. I had my grandma and my mama who hurt both for me but didn’t know what they could do. They watched over me like when you check on someone in a nursing home to see if they are still alive and can still remember who you are and what you’re doing. CPS set up a bunch of rules for me to follow and classes for me to attend so I could rehabilitate myself, sort of get off the group W bench. When I went to the classes they allowed me to visit for an hour with my children, except for David, and they watched me and they made notes about how a woman who had eight children behaves when left alone with three. In the end, they didn’t think I was motherly enough. When they brought the children I always had a change of clothes for them I redressed them the way they should have looked. No one understood it. They thought I was just playing dolls. After a year we went back to court and the “money” came in suits and nice dresses, the educated class, and the judge listened to my half-ass-ed lawyers and he listened to the “money” and he gave away my children, all of them. He said I wasn’t their mother anymore. He lied. Fuck’em all.

I wasn’t dead. I had not yet forgotten how children were made, so I found a live sperm donor. I had to stay away from the doctors and the hospital and I had to do this last baby by myself. I felt good. Nobody could control me and what was mine, but when the baby came I got scared because it didn’t feel right. I called 911, but before the ambulance arrived I had delivered on the kitchen floor. They took me to the hospital and then they called CPS. They came to the hospital and took my last baby. I was damaged and it was over. My desperation to be a mother somebody cared about was over.

I made it back to Oceanside, but there is nothing to do here but walk on the beach and beg and sell some pot. I bought this doll that looks like a real baby. It’s a prop really. Most people don’t know I’m not holding a real baby. They talk to me. They buy a little piece of heaven. It makes them feel good. I laugh sometimes, but mostly I cry. Today I had a little extra shit with me and this guy and his girl friend came up to my bench and started asking me about my weed. I had gotten some from them a few weeks ago. They thought I should just give it to them, but that was my income and I couldn’t give it away. The guy just walked off. He was already high and he wasn’t up to a fight, but the bitch pulled out a little pin knife and stuck it in my arm. I got her by the hair the bounced her off the ground so hard so started screaming and then I kicked her in the face and butt and every god damned place I could. The guy must have seen it and he went for the beach cops. They came running and pulled me off of her and cuffed me. They could see I had been stabbed in the arm, but they though I started the fight because the bitch said I did. She just said that because she thought I owed her some weed and she wanted to get back at me. They took me to jail, but they had to take her to the hospital. Imagine sticking a pin knife into me. What a joke, my husband could even kill me with a car.

As usual, I went court with another half-ass-ed attorney they assigned to me. He didn’t really give a shit what had happened, he had already talked to the D.A. about a deal. They would give me five years probation if I plead guilty to assault and battery. If I didn’t take the probation I had to serve 14 months in the jail. I took jail, because it was over faster and I didn’t have a place to live or anything to eat anyway. I’ll be out soon, then I can leave California again. My kids here are all grown and they don’t visit me either.

How Death Lost to Walter Williams

I

NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Where I lived there are still many trees and much undergrowth. It was hot and insects were at the top of the food chain. It was flatland and low and wet and all the streams and lakes were muddy. The fish couldn’t see six inches in the water. There were no vistas. My life in the Williams family was contained in this jungle and I never saw beyond the moment. So, one day in May, before it was really hot and wet, I killed myself.

I thought dying would be easier than what I had to face. There was no time to think. I thought I had killed my wife and a neighbor who was trying to stop me. I ran over Christie twice with my Dodge Van. I ran over the neighbor once. Then, I fled as fast as I could drive and I took the baby with me. I called Dad. I told him what I had done. I asked him to tell my children that I loved them and to say that it was over for me. He told me to take the baby somewhere and leave her and not to hurt her. He had seen all of my disasters and whatever I did or said did not surprise him. I hung up. I went to my aunt Irma’s and gave Betty to her. I told Irma I was not going to be taken by the police. I went to my car, got my bottle of hydracodone, went to the water hose and took the whole bottle of pills. Irma called 911. I ran into the woods behind her house.

I had lived on Irma’s property when I was five years old and played there many times afterward. I knew that jungle, its trails and its woods. There was a wide easement next to Irma’s house cut through that thicket for power lines. I ran down that easement toward the San Jacinto River for about two miles until I came to a large drainage pipe. I could not go further, so I crawled into the pipe. I knew that the cops would never find me there. In fact, I doubted they would ever look. I felt safe. I fell asleep. I had no idea my body would never awaken and that my mind would never sleep.

When morning came, I was looking at my body in that drainage pipe. I’m not sure that I knew I was dead. I kept expecting to go back into my body and pick myself up, but I just looked at it. There was no feeling and there was no movement. There was no resurrection. I was alone and I was stuck in a place I had not planned to be, a place where I did not expect to spend eternity.

In a few days what had been my body was consumed by maggots. It puffed up with gas and then it just collapsed. A wild pig came and he dragged my body from the pipe to an oak tree in the nearby woods. There he consumed all of it except my skull. It was better to look from the tree than from above the pipe. It was more like all the times I had spent in the woods alone, away from what I could not do and did not want.

Still, I was so alone. I could have cried, but even I was not there to hear me. The mornings and the evenings came and went sadly bearing no hope, not even a hunter to stumble over my skull. Every morning and every evening were the same for a year. The sun was not warm and the rain was not cold. I think I was in a flatland hell.

I could not see Mom or Dad anywhere. I had left them to fight for my children and I was sure that I had killed Christie. Without Christie, who was left for them but Mom and Dad? Why could I not find them? Was I completely separated? Had I put myself into a hell of looking at my skull forever, a bone not even a pig could eat.

In the second year a small dog came to my tree. He took my skull and ran with it to his back yard. Now, I was not alone and like in my life I could befriend a dog. I began to see that I was not stuck in that place. I could let go of the skull, the last of what I had been. I could find what I was supposed to be. I could move into the dreams of the people I had loved. I could be in the company of others. I could see that those who dream can be reached by those of us who dream no more. I was not afraid to touch their minds because I was not returning to hell. I had begun a new journey and I wanted forgiveness and love.

II

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Free to not gaze at my skull and not trapped in the terrible aloneness, and no longer restrained by the woods and the thicket, I found Billie Jean asleep in her home on the mountain overlooking Albuquerque. I let her see my body face down in the creek when it was fresh, before the maggots had collapsed it, and the pig had taken it and eaten the carrion and bones. I knew she would not let it go. I knew that in spite of all that I had done to her and to her brothers and sister she loved, that she would stir. She had escaped her past with me and escaped the flatland and the insects and the jungle. She would not let the vision of my dead body go because she thought the dead should rest. She wanted to know where I was so that everyone could rest. Still, she did not act. I sent her an image of my decaying body. I sent our sister, Elizabeth, an image of my body on the shoreline and in the water. They talked. They knew what it was, but they did not look for my remains.

I walked in Elizabeth’s house. I watched her sleep. I made Elizabeth and Billie Jean talk about me until my sisters had to find my body. In that place where everything is connected I stirred a soul, a psychic, who feels the pain of the dead. I gave Kelli Faulkner my isolation, my longing, and my sins. She was afraid because she knew she had been touched by someone who was lost and was coming back from the dead.

I gave Billie Jean another dream in which I sent her Edith from “All in the Family” and she told her to call a psychic about me, that day. And wow! She did it. She got on her computer, using Google, typed the phrase, “psychic finds missing person” hoping to find one who worked for the police and was maybe legitimate. She got a lot of hits with this phrase. The first page listed several people who worked on missing person’s cases. She chose Kelli Faulkner because she worked on missing person’s cases for no charge. Finding me was not going to be worth any money, so doing it for nothing was the best way.

Elizabeth called Kelli immediately and told her that they needed help with my case. Kelli told them that she could help, but wanted to know if there was a little boy involved, and also, if there was someone involved in this case who was making it seem like something that it was not. They both thought of my little boy, Allen, and my wife, Christie, whom I thought I had killed.

Kelli asked Billie Jean to tell her what had happened to me, what they knew about the last day. Billie Jean told her that Christie and I had fought and that we had a history of violence. I had run her over with my Dodge van, and thinking that I had killed her, had driven to Irma’s house to give her our baby, Betty. I had been drinking and Irma and Raymond saw me swallowing water from the hose and putting pills from a bottle into my mouth. Irma told me she had to call the paramedics. I got scared and jumped the fence and ran down the easement. Raymond, my nephew, tried to follow me, went to get his shoes, but didn’t see me when he returned. Billie Jean told Kelli that they thought I had committed suicide.

After listening to the story Kelli said, “Okay, here’s where he is: look in a four-foot diameter, corrugated steel drainage pipe located near Irma’s house. It could be about two miles, but no more than five miles, directly northwest of the water hose where he had been swallowing pills. I feel now like I’m being pushed inside that tube. Walk to the hose, and point as if you had a compass in a northwest direction, and start walking northwest from that place. There will be a small drop into the ditch there and there will be a lot of dirt on top. The sun can’t really beat down where he was. It’s marshy now and it could have a lot of water in the ditch. There is not water all the time. Houses are scattered around this place but there is not a house nearby. I see a tree line and woods nearby, but this area seemed to be in a clearing. He was either in the beginning or in the middle part of the pipe. Bring a flashlight, because there could be a lot of junk in there. There is a street name or a family name, something like the word ‘Stuart.’”

The street near where I killed myself was called “Stone.” Billie Jean asked Kelli if I had been killed by someone else and Kelli told her no one else was involved. Kelli had been on many searches like this and advised Billie Jean and Elizabeth to talk to the hunters because they would be familiar with the area. She told them that cadaver dogs would be necessary for this search and to find the handlers that the police used and to ask them to do a practice run with these dogs. She said to look at the base of bushes and trees for long bones, because animals will usually drag them there, but that the skull is usually intact. I thought I was different, but it seems I’m just like other dead bodies in the woods.

When I reached out to Kelli, I sent her a vision of me saying goodbye to Allen which I had not been able to do. It was the longing about which I spoke. I was crouching down next to Allen and saying goodbyes to him. Kelli described me to Billie Jean as, “big-boned, not pale, but with olive skin tones in his face, about 5’10” with brown hair, wearing jeans and tennis shoes.” She said Allen was about 3 years old.

The dream bothered Kelli because spirits usually contacted her while she was awake. The dream encounter finally made sense to her after knowing that I had committed suicide. Kelli said that in the case of suicides the spirit of the person doesn’t know how to communicate yet. She explained this by telling Billie Jean that in her experience with the spirit world suicides don’t go to hell, but exist in a sort of limbo where they have to deal with the problems they could not handle in life. She said that they wake up in a sort of hospital room where memories are slowly introduced back to them. They deal with them over a long time from the perspective of the living. Kelli lives in the city and probably didn’t know some of us hang out in the woods and keep watch over our skulls as we learn. She said that oftentimes the dead will show up in your dreams or the dreams of the kids. They might be hanging around but will not speak to you. Of course, I would have spoken if I had known how to do it at the time. It would have been funny to scare Billie Jean and Elizabeth, but I still have eternity to do that.

III

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Kelli told Billie Jean and Elizabeth that my appearances to them in dreams were actual visitations. She said to ask the kids if they had been dreaming about me since I died. I had to learn how to communicate. Billie Jean asked Kelli why she and Elizabeth would be dreaming about the location of my body. Kelli said that I needed those who were still grieving to have closure so that I could move on. Closure for the family was more helpful than their finding my body. Of course, I was the only one stuck staring down from a tree at an uneaten skull. So, who really wanted to move on?

Elizabeth called Dad, telling him that he could write them off as nuts, but that they had called a psychic to find out something about me. Elizabeth told Dad what Kelli had said about the location of my body. Elizabeth asked him to ask Allen if he had been dreaming about me. Dad was surprised and curious. He told them to call mom and tell her what Kelli had said. Dad called Billie Jean and Elizabeth back later to tell them that he had asked Allen about his dreams. Allen said he had dreamt that a bad man had killed Walter and that he had a dream that Walter was jumping up and down on a pipe.

Billie Jean and her husband, John, and Elizabeth flew to Houston to find my body using Kelli’s directions and lots of excitement. They went first to the store and bought a compass, some rain ponchos, a backpack, and some candy. I suppose they intended to keep the pigs away with the candy bars.

They drove to the woods in a torrential rain storm. It thundered, lightning struck and hail fell from the sky. In a while the thunder and lightning stopped and the hail became a drizzling rain. They arrived at the first site near the end of Calhoun Street. They had gone there because Dad told them that there might be drainage pipes near the end of the road where it met the San Jacinto River. They parked the car at the end of the road and walked on a trail alongside the river but found no sign of a drainage pipe. They soon quit that route because it didn’t seem right. They drove to Irma’s house to retrace my steps. They were armed with a compass and faith in what little circumstantial and psychic evidence they had collected. They reasoned that I had taken pills that would stop my heart in thirty minutes and that I must have traveled about two miles. I took the easement because you can’t walk, much less run, through the thicket that fills those woods.

The compass showed that the easement runs directly northwest from Irma’s house. They jumped the back fence at Irma’s house and started walking along the easement. It was swampy and muddy, and their shoes got waterlogged quickly. They stopped along the way and looked inside hunter’s blinds for some evidence. They found nothing.

They thought I might choose these places for shelter, but I wasn’t worried about finding shelter, just not getting caught. Elizabeth timed their walk to calculate the distance. Kelli said that I would be in a 4 foot corrugated steel pipe more than two miles from Irma’s house. After about forty minutes of meandering, they came upon a ditch with a four-foot corrugated steel pipe. It ran perpendicular to the roadway, but they could not find another open end. The pipe was almost filled to the top with water. They looked around the ditch for bones or other evidence, but felt, as Kelli had recommended, that they needed cadaver dogs that could smell in water to find anything. They didn’t know the maggots and the pig had already been there in the first dry summer when water didn’t fill that pipe.

They were satisfied that the pipe location was one piece of the puzzle, but this only made them more curious than before. This location coincided with Billie Jean and Elizabeth’s dreams, with Allen’s dream, and with Kelli’s vision. This spot seemed right. Billie Jean saw an opening to the universe, but she was also wet and dirty and unfamiliar with pipes that had only one end.

They knew the purpose for being there but were overtaken by exhaustion. They had suspended disbelief for eighteen months so having evidence of me was a relief, but it was only a step in making my death real. They began to struggle with whether they still needed to see my remains to believe that I had died in that pipe. Yet, they still wanted to find physical remains. Faith and my weak signals had brought them this far. They were getting impatient and kept comforting themselves with the thought that this was a test of their faith.

IV

TO him who ever thought with love of me
Or ever did for my sake some good deed
I will appear, looking such charity
And kind compassion, at his life’s last need
That he will out of hand and heartily
Repent he sinned and all his sins be freed.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Billie Jean, John, and Elizabeth went back to Irma’s house, washed their clothes and rested. They were exhausted. Elizabeth searched the Internet for someone who could bring cadaver dogs to search the pipe. Links through the police departments led nowhere and no one returned their calls. After a few hours of research, she found the website of the Special K-9s. They were from The Woodlands, a town not far from where they were near Conroe. She called them and the woman she spoke with wanted to meet them at the site at ten the next morning with some of her cadaver dogs. They called Dad and told him what had happened.

When they arrived at the site the next day, there were five SUV’s and two pickups parked along the roadside. There were five handlers with their cadaver dogs. The group leader was a woman who had been doing searches with her dogs for several years. She had recently used these dogs to identify human remains from the space shuttle crash in Palestine, Texas.

Billie Jean was impressed by their compassion. They asked Billie Jean and Elizabeth for a description of me and to recount what had happened that led them to this spot. They told the woman about how I had taken pills, what the paramedics said about my heart stopping, and the probable distance I had traveled. They also told her what information Kelli had given them—about the pipe and the ditch. She told the search party that they would be looking for remains of a 33-year-old male, who had been wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and tennis shoes, was presumed to have taken pills and alcohol. They forgot to tell them to search for those things in the pig poop.

The K-9 team leader then sent two dog handlers with their dogs to sweep the easement in both directions from the pipe. One handler and his dog went into the river to smell the water. After about thirty minutes of working, the dogs found nothing and came back for a break. Billie Jean was curious about the pipe. She asked if the handler would send her dog down to smell the water by the drainage pipe. The dog did not find anything, but he showed some interest at the opposite end of the pipe. The handlers said that the dog might have smelled some raw sewage flowing into the river at that point. Billie Jean was disappointed and discouraged that the pipe was full of water so that they couldn’t send a dog into it.

The situation seemed hopeless. But the team leader got a call on her radio that a dog had found something in the woods by a large oak tree about ten yards from the easement. The handler said that the dog was sweeping the easement and caught a scent in the wind, whipped its head around, and darted into the woods. The other dogs were brought in to confirm this spot. All five dogs confirmed the spot as having had human remains. Fortunately, the little dog had removed my skull from below the tree freeing me from that vigilance trap, so the quest for my remains droned on.

Billie Jean thought that I might lay here in my last moments, alone in the woods and next to this oak tree. This was sad but comforting to her because she knew that I loved being in the woods and sought out trees like this when I wanted to be alone. The family would often find chairs out in the woods in Splendora where I would sit and smoke. Of course, she didn’t know that it was too dark to find that tree before I died and that it had been the pig’s choice. The pig had wanted to munch on some acorns, too.

Since there were no remains under the tree Billie Jean thought that animals had drug my remains to another spot or perhaps they had eaten everything. The idea that pigs could have consumed me disturbed Billie Jean but to me it was ironic, since I had hunted those feral pigs. That was the funny part –not being eaten by pigs– but the idea that when it came down to it, I was food for other animals and insects when I died. It makes other people shudder but it doesn’t matter if you’re dead.

The other thing that struck Billie Jean was that if I had died next to this oak tree, my remains had helped to give nutrients to this tree. I could now literally be part of that tree, especially if the pig had left his poop there. Billie Jean finally decided that my remains were now part of a tree. She thought that was awesome, but she hasn’t seen anything, yet.

V

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The dog handlers told Billie Jean to call the cops about the hit the dogs had made. They thought it would get them interested in the case again. She called them and the cops arrived about two hours later. Billie Jean learned much from the dog handlers. They were experienced in searches. They told Billie Jean about other cases, which gave Billie Jean more insight into how to handle my case.

The police were in four squad cars. They were detectives, older than the cops who give speeding tickets or the security guards who get jobs at the prisons. These guys were like the good ol’ boys you see in movies. They had been behind a desk with nothing to do until this excitement. She could tell by their shit-faced grins that they lived for this stuff. Their shoes were polished, their pants pressed, and they all had new haircuts and looked like they had just come from the make-up room. They wore dark suits and ties or silk shirts and ties. Their gold tie bars provided the finishing touches.

The detectives were stoic and sure of themselves. They compensated for their loss of words by talking about football. One of the detectives, after going into the woods to see where the dogs had responded to the remains, came out and began talking to Billie Jean and John about football—how the Aggies were going to come back out of their slump. Billie Jean got mad at him because after seeing the dogs identify the spot where my remains had been she felt that the spot was sacred. That guy could only joke about football. She should have known the prison guards I knew, they could have taught these Aggies how to really be insensitive.

The highest ranking detective oozed the kind of East Texas charm that made Billie Jean understand why I hated cops. He wore a green shirt and green silk tie to match. Billie Jean said he was a smiling devil, that didn’t respect life or death. He didn’t know about me, that the cops used to call me “Spooky Walter,” that I had kicked officers, run away from them, and had always vowed to shoot the cops if they ever tried to arrest me. Billie Jean kept her month shut. There was the slight possibility that they could find some remains and close my case. Billie Jean didn’t want to burn any bridges with these detectives. She had to trust that they would look for my remains knowing that after eighteen months they had looked for nothing. She said that one detective named Lewis showed his concern and said that he hoped there could be some closure for the family. She saw in his eyes an apology for his superior’s behavior.

One of the detectives called my father the next day to tell him that they had searched a 20-yard area around the oak tree with an FBI dog that had also identified the spot as having had human remains. They had raked the leaves away from the tree and the dog didn’t identify the spot any longer. They thought that the dog should have identified the soil under the bed of leaves if I had died there over a year ago, but he didn’t. The first searchers had raked leaves from the tree before the police did their search to look for bones, so they had removed a layer of leaves before the second search.

The police’s lack of further interest was a disappointment to my sisters. Why, when they had evidence of there having been human remains (even if they were not mine) were they no longer interested in doing a more thorough search? The dogs were trained to sniff the soil for nitrogen from human remains. There was no question that when these cadaver dogs identify a spot (especially when six dogs identify the same spot) that this was where human remains had been.

The detectives still thought I was alive and that my family was hiding me rather than believing that I had committed suicide. In the Fall of 2003 two officers questioned my aunt Irma about me and told her that the family usually hides the suspect in a criminal investigation insinuating that she or my mother were hiding me. Irma had noticed a second patrol car parked down the street to catch me if I tried to run. My mother says that they came to her house to question her and patrolled the perimeter in the same way. I should have had the little dog take my skull to them so they would have become believers sooner.

Sometime during the second week of January 2004 a neighbor of Irma’s found my skull. His puppy, my little dog from the oak tree, had been playing with it. Detective McFarlan called Dad and told him about it and asked him where my dental records could be found. The department’s plan was to send the skull with the dental records to the State’s Medical Examiner for identification. Billie Jean and Elizabeth were very excited and were hopeful that this was my skull. They called Kelli to find out if she thought this was my skull and to ask her what their next steps should be—how to deal with the police and where to begin with the Medical Examiner.

Kelli said to keep pressuring the detective and to call the State’s Forensic Lab and to let them know that the family was interested in the case. She believed that if you had no political power or influence in the community it could take months to get the lab results. Her experience was that police lose evidence. She was wrong, of course. I had been watching my skull for eighteen months and I was not going to let it just go away.

Billie Jean asked her what she thought about the identification of the tree by the dogs. Kelli said that the hit on the tree probably meant that there was some hair or other kind of tissue that was dragged there by animals or that there was something up in the tree. The bad thing about such an old case was that the evidence could be spread all over several hundred yards or even miles.

Billie Jean had not realized that what was so earth shattering to Dad was that Kelli had remote viewing skills. That she could see things like land features without having to be there, whereas Billie Jean was worried about her being accurate and actually finding some evidence of my remains.

Kelli told Billie Jean that the police didn’t appreciate her physic abilities, even though they used her help to locate people’s bodies. She told Billie Jean that she was writing a book called No Expectations. That’s how I used to feel.

After about two weeks, Detective McFarlan called Dad and Elizabeth. He told them that the skull was identified by the Medical Examiner as mine from my dental records. See, its good to take care of your teeth and to pay your dentist. Elizabeth said that after all this time of doing nothing on this case, that McFarlan sounded like a dog that had torn up the couch and was found, tail between his legs, in the middle of the mess. He told them that he didn’t know the procedure for releasing the skull, since he’d never done this before, possibly because he never looked for anyone’s remains.

A month later the judge ruled that I was dead and my skull was sent to Metcalf Funeral Home in Conroe, Texas. They called Dad and told him he could pick it up. It was in the evidence box that the police had used to store it. It was very light. There was no lower jawbone. It had been out in the weather a long time. Mom bought a waterproof box for it. Mom and Dad put some of my things in the box and hung it in a tree on their property near a spot where they thought I liked to sit and smoke. They said some nice things about me, my sense of humor, my good looks, the way I helped them build their houses. They continue to tell my children that the last thing I told Dad was to tell them that I loved them. I never expected that one of them would be conceived after I was dead, but I love him, too. The court records say he was immaculately conceived and the final custody documents say that he was mine. As I used to tell dad when I was in prison and reading Frank McCourt’s books, “Isn’t this a great country altogether?” and we would agreed with McCourt, “’tis.”

VI

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

After Mom and Dad put my skull in the little gray box with the pictures and hung the box from the tree, I began to learn how to speak. Dad was the first to have an effective dream. He left his body and went to a staircase in the administration building of Kingwood College. I met him as he was walking up the stairs. He saw me as I had been at my best. I smiled at him and he said, “I’m so glad to see you, how are you now?” I told him it was not what I thought it would be, that I was learning. Then Dad disappeared. His dream was over. I was surprised by how much was contained in so few words and such small gestures. I am now surprised by how close everything is in the universe, yet how empty the universe seems to be.

Elizabeth is close to the connections in the real world and easy to reach, yet she does not talk. I make her body cold and I make her shake. She was sitting at her kitchen table with Juliano and James and I touched her. Juliano could see me. James, who knew nothing of me, drew a picture of a skull in a tree. Elizabeth was astounded and frightened, so I decided to leave and let her rest.

I thought death would be lonely and it has been. It could have been better than life had I grown close to the souls of the people I loved. I turned inward at a very young age and I could not tell the difference between being controlled and being helped, between existing and loving. I had a fear of everything when I was twelve. I could not sleep in my bed because something there was trying to get me. There were aliens landing in our back field. I got a blanket and knife and I got into the bathtub and stayed there until daylight. I did it many times. Sometimes Mom would find me and take my knife away and make me go back to my bed. I would go out of my bedroom onto the roof and watch the space ships. I took pictures. Dad said they were airplanes.

Dad wanted me to tell him what was wrong, to talk it out. I didn’t know what was wrong. He was very physical and once he held me against the concrete wall outside and ask me over and again, “What’s wrong with you, Walter?” I couldn’t take it, so the next day I decided to kill him. I should have done it when his back was turned, but I wanted him to see me. I took a big knife from the kitchen and chased him from inside the house to the back yard. Mom threw him a rolling pin and when I tried to stab him he hit me on the head with the rolling pin. I went down like a rock. I couldn’t see and my left arm and hand were paralyzed. Dad stepped on my hand and took my knife away. He then began to cry. He picked me up and carried me to his car. Mom drove us to the hospital emergency room. I recovered my sight, but my hand and arm were weak and numb for about two weeks. The doctor put me in a psychiatric ward. I had no idea what anybody was doing to me. I was just locked up. I guess it’s good I didn’t kill him.

Kelli told Billie Jean that suicides don’t go to hell. She thinks they go to limbo, but there is no such place. There is just the loneliness and the attachments to dying and dead things that try to fill empty spaces, the real dark matter. It was the dog that stirred me. He was the connection to what life is before it begins to decay. He was the electric wire that holds the universe in its tight ball, wound round and round until everything touches. That is the essence of the big bang before the cold of space was created into which a soul can be lost and left alone. I love the little dog that found my skull.

I learned to speak in this dimension by seeing what I could have been and I go through strings to my past until what was possible is known to me. The fun of it is that the old become young and what had been tragedy I see as only an unwinding. At every turn there was always the possibility I could have loved what was there. I don’t know if it would not have changed the path I took in the contest with death, but I would not have gone so far into that vast cold space.

Every passage from hell to heaven, when told to mortals, seems more interesting if closer to hell. I find that amusing but only because most of my experience was hell and insanity. The first time I was a patient that had to be watched I could not abide my keepers. They already knew who I was and what I would do with my life in such detail that I was compelled to prove them wrong. I could lie better than they could explain. I could outlast their resources until they had to let me go. They were resigned to my fate, but I fought against it like a drowning cat.

The doctor who attended me had read my book, like Patton had studied Rommel. And, like Rommel in North Africa, I was not there for the battle. The doctor gave the text book reference of my personality type to Mom and Dad. They were astounded to read that so many young people don’t care about others and do as they please until they either die young or get tired of being locked up and punished. There was an ICDA code for my condition and a CPT code and a UB92 code for the treatment of my body. I chose death at thirty-three. There is a code for that, too. My Dad’s uncle, Bobbie, chose death at thirty-three. He was not attended by physicians, but by guards. He did not code well. We were both trying to squeeze the strings of immortality from the carrion and bones of our lives.

A priest came to see me during my thirty days of transformation. He was a psychologist working for the hospital. He lived in a house near my home in Splendora where they fixed other priests who had been codified. I liked him. I liked the church. I served at the altar every time they locked me in jail or prison. The altar, it’s the best place to be when you are locked-up.

VII

The difference between despair
And fear, is like the one
Between the instant of a wreck,
And when the wreck has been.

The mind is smooth, – no motion-
Contented as the eye
Upon the forehead of a bust
That knows it cannot see.
Emily Dickinson

I should have gone back and stayed with that Priest. He should have told Mom and Dad to be ready for heartbreak because he knew what was coming as he knew his own kind. I could have been an altar-boy for those who had lost their altars. Instead, I went home and Mom became my school master. She was a good teacher, but there was little reward in teaching me. Within a year I was in a motorcycle accident. I was confined to a hospital bed after surgeons repaired my foot, my legs, my ribs, and my skin. Mom and Dad were there for me every damn day. That was in addition to having to care for my two younger brothers and two younger sisters. I loved Mom and Dad then and I loved them later when they came to see me in jails and prisons and I love them now when they can’t see me at all. I’m sorry for what I did. I had other choices.

I never really recovered physically from the accident. I became addicted to pain medication and I used all kinds of pills my entire life. Mom taught me enough to get me through my GED. I went to Kingwood College for two years. I became a weightlifter with big arms and shoulders and a six foot body of 220 pounds. I worked at the Gym. Then I decided I wanted to be a cook.

I went to cooking school and a year later I had a certificate saying I was a cook. I thought, “Now, I can get a real job doing something I like to do.” I went to work for Red Lobster and quickly discovered that it was an assembly job and not a cook’s job. I became cynical way too young and way too far from what life was supposed to be. Now, I know it’s not the work you do, it’s not the little skills you master, it’s the connections through the sufferings to all the little strings that hold the universe together.

I could have grabbed many strings and I missed them all. Jeff and I got drunk and we broke into this bar and took the change out of the cigarette machine. The owner knew we did it and the next day we were in jail. We got a year’s deferred adjudication. I met a lot of cops and they made a point of remembering me. I didn’t talk nice. It was easy not to like me. Jeff and I had some girls. We hung out. We drank. We stole things from everyone, including our parents. I didn’t even excuse it. That was not coded in my file. I had been diagnosed, handed my fate. I lived it.

Strange it is how moms and dads act. They try to keep their children alive in spite of a hopeless, pointless, pitiful, cursed body that death keeps circling until the birds carry it away. It is really hard to kill yourself with a little hate followed by an act of kindness. That must be what suffering is, kindness overtaking hateful acts until death stops the process.

My brothers and sisters moved away. Mom and Dad let the house go to hell with me. Mom took an apartment in town and would not let me know where she lived. Dad stayed with his father and mother most of time to help care for his dad who had had a stroke. I saw them sometimes and I stole grandpa’s pain medicine. It was in my file that I was supposed to do things like that.

I think I was depressed. I know I was drunk most of the time. Jeff and I were stopped by the cops while driving drunk down Highway 59. I objected to being arrested, fought with the cops, and broke out of their squad car. They got me and put me in the county jail for three months. I made a deal for five years probation for felony escape. Free, free at last, I thought.

Jails are not like monasteries. They could be if it was voluntary. Jails are more like bathrooms at football stadiums which have been accidentally locked by a stupid watchman while four hundred men were trying to take a piss. That is the reason we plea bargain and the reason why men long to be transferred to a prison from a jail. In jail you no longer think of baloney as a metaphor.

Let me tell you how wonderful jail can be. They handcuff you to take you there. When you arrive they take your stuff. They give you bright-colored, loose-fitting clothes. They make you take a shower. Sometimes they give you a towel to dry off, sometimes it’s a pillowcase. They file your clothes in a box. They ask if you are a homosexual. They put you into a small cell with two or three other guys. The cell has bunks and a steel toilet with no lid and a steel sink with cold water. Some cells are not that good. They let you out of the cell to eat. Three times a week you can go to the inside courtyard to walk around. It’s a real fancy monastery.

You can have visitors on weekends after the first ten days, but they are behind a bulletproof plastic window and must talk to you through a phone. You get a bible in your cell, but after two weeks you can get other reading material if it is mailed to you directly from the publisher. Your mail is censored. You can use the pay phone for collect calls and whomever you call pays about ten times the normal rate per minute.

The food will make you fat and keep you fat. If they believed in medicine, you would get a Zocor pill with every meal. Mystery meat is very popular. I ate many beans. The snacks from the commissary suck up every spare dime anyone can get from friends and relatives. If the old dictum, “Grow what you eat, eat what you grow” were applied in jail then inmates would have fungus everyday.

The boredom is what makes one desire a prison where you think you might be able to do something instead of trying to sleep. Besides your innocence and that of your cellmates, there is little to talk about in jail and one tires quickly of complaining. The guards are only there to lead you in chains from your cell to the mess hall and back at every meal. I was not surprised to find that the people in jail were like the people on the outside only more honest about their lives. I read Dostoyevsky’s, The House of The Dead, and it’s seems as if it could have been written yesterday and here, instead of in 1861 after he was released from prison in Siberia. He is proof to me that you have to live through this shit to write about it. Hollywood versions of jail and prison suck by comparison with the experience and with Dostoyevsky’s fiction about it.

I thought after I got out of jail the first time I would avoid going again. I thought I could do that by not getting caught. I was wrong but for all of the right reasons.

VIII

MY own heart let me have more pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.
Emily Dickinson

When I returned from jail Mom and Dad put up with me for such a long time, but they tired of the terror I made for them. They tried to get the mental health people to take me away, but to no avail. It was then that Christie came into my life. She brought more disaster to people who had already lost faith that they knew anything at all about how to fix anything in the world. Christie’s grandmother lived about a mile from our house. Christie had returned from California with her two-year-old son, Joseph. She had left her four older children with her boyfriend and conceived Joseph with a man named Jerry Jones. She said she lived in motels for about six months until she spent all of the money she had gotten somewhere. She then came home to her grandmother. She was looking for another mate. She walked down our street and found me. Mom and Dad had moved out. Christie moved into the house with me.

In a month Christie became pregnant. We lived on the food stamps she had and the money I got hocking Mom’s and Dad’s stuff. I found work as a carpenter and I felt good for the first time in years.

Mom and Dad decided to take back their property. They persuaded Christie and me to move to an apartment in Cleveland, Texas. Dad gave me his 87 Ford, a trailer, some tools, and he paid the deposit and rent on our apartment. We moved. I worked; Christie grew bigger and finally bore my son, Allen.

He was big and healthy and very pretty. In the hospital, Christie raised hell with the nurses and threw the food tray on the floor. Her welfare service was below par. Mom and Dad came to see us during Christie’s fit and they left as soon as they could after seeing the baby.

Christie and I watched TV, took care of the babies, and fought. She expected me to support her and I was spaced-out most of the time. She lost the fights, but afterward she would go to the emergency room and call the police. Then, she would lie to the police about who had beaten her. Once she gave the name of my brother, Mike, who lived in Austin with his wife. Mike had to correct that lie with the police and it was no easy matter. Apparently, when someone accuses the wrong person of a crime that wrong person can’t just get his name off the record without some proof that he’s the wrong person.

Christmas came. Christie and I arrived with the children at Mom’s and Dad’s house. Christie’s face was covered with makeup to hide bruises I had given her. The family gasped and swallowed and shuffled their feet and wondered what the hell kind of people we were. I didn’t give a shit. Everyone else had it made. We did what we wanted to do.

Mom and Dad had sixteen acres in the quiet woods and not all of it went underwater during the floods. They decided to build a new house on the highest spot they had seen when the water had risen. They paid me and some other carpenters I worked with to help them with the construction. I was very good and very strong but I was still angry with Dad from all that had happened years before. Sometimes I worked and sometimes I pretended to work. Dad had high hopes that through building something together we could find love and respect for each other and get over all of the years of insanity. In many ways that is what happened. In other ways we revisited disaster.

Years before, when I had attempted to stab Dad and he had clubbed me, Dad had resolved never to engage in physical violence again, regardless of the consequences. He would be a true pacifist, like Martin of Tours. So, one good day I tested his resolve. My helper and I had built the foundation of a deck in front of the living room of the new house. It was to be covered with treated 2”x 6” planks. Instead, we nailed treated ¾” ply on the foundation joists. When Dad arrived and saw the mistake he told us we had to remove the ply and replace it with the planks. I got very angry about having to do the work again and blamed Dad for the mistake. I said he gave poor instructions. I refused to help. Ricky and Dad removed the plywood. Dad told me that if I was angry and could not work I should go home and come back when I was calm again.

I took his statement as a threat to fire me. I picked up a survey stake, walked quickly toward him, and tried to hit him in the head with the stake. He blocked it with his left forearm. His arm broke with a loud snap, a baton break, as the doctors called it. Ricky yelled at me not to do it the whole time I was going toward Dad. Ricky took me home. Dad called my brother, Jude, and he took him to the hospital. His arm healed. My mind healed a little. We finished the house together six months later. It’s a very interesting place; something Dad and I did well together.

Christie and I decided to go to California. I thought I could escape my probation problems and Christie could be near her other children. I assumed that I could find carpenter work there, avoid the probation officers in Cleveland, and fix my relationship with Christie. We left a few days before the probation officers were to arrest me in Cleveland. It was amazing to me that it took so long for the officers to even try to arrest me. I had ignored them for two years and they knew where I was. They had changed my probation officer three times and I guess I just got lost in the paper shuffle.

Our trip to California would have been better accomplished in a covered wagon. The car and trailer were loaded to the gill. The car over-heated in the Arizona Desert. Dad wired me money for radiator repairs and a motel room. He thought the babies might die there. His cousin’s baby had died going through that Desert in her car. It made him worry.

When we got to California, we stayed with Christie’s ex-boyfriend, Ken, for about two weeks. Ken and I got into a fight. He told Christie and I to leave. Christie says I never really looked for a job, but I couldn’t find one that paid enough to get us a place to live. We camped out in a motel. We fought again. The police arrested me and then released me. A few days later they found out I was wanted for probation violations in Texas and they arrested me again. They held me for extradition by the Texas Court, but the Texas Court did not respond, so they released me again.

Christie and I packed the car and went back to Houston. We lost half of our stuff. I told Dad I was going to give up when I returned, but I did not. Christie and I rented a trailer house near Cleveland and I started back to work as a carpenter.

When we first moved into the trailer Christie had words with the landlady over the electric bill. The landlady had a policy of collecting the electric bill each week in advance of the due date, so if a tenant skipped out the owners would not be stuck with an unpaid bill. The weekly bills were getting very high. Christie thought we were being cheated, rather than that she and I were using so much electricity. Next, the stove caught fire because of bad wiring and the conflict with the landlady got worse. Then, Christie stepped on a weak board on the porch, it broke, and she hurt her leg. She called the landlady to take her to the hospital. Finally, Allen, our baby, fell out of the back door while Christie was in the bathroom. There was no back porch and he broke his arm when he hit the ground. The landlady blamed Christie for not watching the baby. Christie blamed the landlady for a missing porch and a bad door lock.

IX

The things that Death will buy
Are Room, – Escape
From Circumstances,
And a Name.
How gifts of Life
With Death’s gifts will compare,
We know not-
For the rates stop here.
Emily Dickinson

At last, the police found me. They took me to Montgomery County Jail and set a bail that no one had a desire to pay. I stayed three months before I could get a hearing. Because I served so much time in jail they reinstated my probation and medicated me for a bipolar condition that their doctor had diagnosed. I felt like a changed man and I appreciated a new start. I went to work full-time at a good carpenter job. I kept in touch with my probation officer.

While I had been in jail, Mom and Dad moved Christie and the children into an apartment near a school and stores. She started cleaning some apartments to make a little money, but she never made enough to pay any expenses. She had fallen off welfare which requires frequent contact to remain eligible. The welfare office was 30 miles away and there was no public transportation and Christie could not drive. She had always depended on others for wheels and her demands were so frequent that her family did not always want to respond.

When I returned from jail to the apartment Mom loaned me her old truck so I could get to work and the family could get around. I decided to marry Christie so that we could start a normal life. I wanted to be the legal husband of Christie and the legal father of Allen. I was twenty-nine. I thought I was finally in control of my life. Then I forgot the rules again.

I had hocked an old shotgun before I went to jail. It belonged to a friend, Bubba, and I wanted to recover it and give it back to him. I reclaimed it, took it home and put it in the closet. One bad night Christie and I got into an argument, then a fight, and the fight carried outside. The neighbors called the police. I took Allen and went to Mom’s and Dad’s house. Christie filed assault and battery charges against me. I had scratch marks, bite marks, and bruises. Christie had bruises on her face and neck. The children were glad to be with anyone else.

I went to work the next day. I left Allen with Mom. This routine went on for two days until my probation officer called and told me to come to her office for a meeting. The police and Christie went to Mom’s and Dad’s house while I was at work and took Allen. That afternoon I went to the meeting with the probation officer and about fifty ATF officers arrested me for felony possession of a firearm. Of course, I didn’t have a firearm, but there was that broken one of Bubba’s that they had gotten from Christie when we had the fight. I was taken to Liberty County Jail.

Mom and Dad continued to pay the rent and utilities for Christie’s apartment, but once it became clear that I would be gone for a long time they had to relocate Christie where she could get work and help. At least that’s how they saw it. Christie just went along with the move while working on another agenda. She dropped the assault and battery charges against me even though I had said nothing to her about doing that. She must have still loved me and thought I had been punished enough already.

I could wish that I had such power of language as should avail me to
those who would extol the worship of men above that of the sun…Those
Who have wished to worship men as gods have made a very grave error.
Leonardo Da Vinci

Dad was not sure where Christie and the two babies should live. He had become friends with Joseph and Nelly and their two sons who lived near his offices. He had met them while both were trying to care for a dying Romanian man, Nick, whom they all knew from their Church. Nick had hepatitis. Joseph and Nelly had given up their trailer for Nick, since otherwise he would not have been able to get to the bathroom. They moved to another trailer on their property that had fewer amenities. They had to be careful handling him. He would spit blood and he would get his feces on the bed sheets and in the bathroom. It was hard, but they were careful. After a few weeks, Nick went to the hospital and after a few days he was transferred to a nursing home. Joseph and Nelly had done something for Nick that neither Dad nor any of the church volunteers had done for anyone. Dad was very impressed and very humbled. I was impressed, too.

Dad told Joseph and Nelly that his Charity Organization would help them finish their house. They bought them some siding needed to enclose the frame of the house. Then Dad had the bright idea that Christie might be able to help them with the labor. At the time, Dad had another lady staying with the Charity from a Catholic Worker Farm in Washington. She wanted to care for children and she could drive a car. Christie had children, needed a driver for the small errands, and with that kind of help would be free to contribute to the building of Joseph’s and Nelly’s house. Dad thought, ”What an ideal set of circumstances.” He would supply the money to support all of these people in need of God’s blessings. Wow! You can buy happiness without actually being committed to the work and the relationships. I was glad to see that Christie and the boys had some help. Dad thought they would all work together and be happy.

He talked to Joseph and Nelly about his idea. They said okay, there was room for another trailer in the front of their property and they would connect it to their electricity and water. The women and the children could stay there.

Dad talked with Christie and Ellen. They agreed that it was a good idea, and that they could share the childcare and the construction work Joseph was doing. Dad went to a trailer dealer and purchased a large travel trailer. The dealer moved it to Joseph’s property. Christie and Ellen took the Charity’s station wagon and moved Christie’s stuff from her old apartment to the new trailer. There was too much stuff. Dad had told Christie that the trailer was not like a house and that she had to cut down to the essentials of life, but she had no experience of that. Oddly enough, the majority of stuff was toys and clothes.

Christie and I had bought the boys enough extruded plastic toys to build the Sears Tower in spite of our never having a penny for food, shelter, transportation, or utilities. Dad said that the most irritating part of the move was having toys playing stupid jingles over and over again using up their little batteries. He was not able to find the toys to kill the noise in the piles of clothes and other junk. He left Christie and Ellen and the singing toys to sort it all out over the weekend.

In his clear vision of how the ideal world should work and how his money would let him avoid it, he saw two grateful young women, hope in their hearts, carefully storing everything necessary in the little trailer, and setting aside the junk in boxes to be stored neatly elsewhere. Then, when everything was in good order, they would play with the children, hug them, read stories to them and put them to bed. Then the ladies would have a nice cup of tea and sit outside under the new trailer canopy talking of what great blessings had come to those who love God from those who try to buy heaven.

Instead, what they did was fill up both the trailer and the yard with boxes, clothes, and toys, go to the grocery store and charge $560 in groceries, cigarettes, cosmetics and paper diapers and return to try to stuff those in the trailer too. Ellen decided to crawl into bed and smoke. Christie decided to burn a bunch of greasy food on the stove, which she could not take apart and clean.

On Monday Ellen was the first to try to help Joseph with the building, but she wandered off after picking up a board. Joseph found her back in the trailer watching a soap opera. Christie decided to help Joseph with the construction while Ellen watched the babies. The babies wandered off from Ellen and into the construction site. Allen climbed a thirty-foot latter to the top of a light pole. Joseph found Joey hidden in the construction debris. Ellen was having a smoke while watching the soap opera again.

Christie and Joseph said that something was wrong with Ellen; she just wasn’t into anything except sleeping, eating and smoking. Dad decided to send Ellen back to Washington. Dad tried to buy her a one-way ticket, but only round trips were available for a cheap price. He hoped she didn’t notice that there were return trip stubs. He called the Catholic Worker Farm and told them what had happened. He told them he couldn’t figure out how to get Ellen to work. They sympathized, they said not to worry about it. If she showed up there they’d see what they could do again.

Christie was left taking care of the babies full time and Joseph was left without any help building his house. Also, Joseph decided that the trailer needed a porch and a fence around it so the babies would not get into the construction site. He and Nelly also discovered that Christie needed to go to the store everyday, or to the welfare office, or to the school. They hauled her around in the station wagon. Joseph complained that Christie charged too much at the store on the Charity’s account. She got angry with him in the store and yelled in front of the store manager, which embarrassed Joseph. Taking Christie places became a dreaded duty in Joseph and Nelly’s minds.

Christie enrolled Joey into Kindergarten. She told them he was hyperactive and had a severe attention deficit disorder. She said the other school forced her to give him medications. They told Christie they would like to make their own determinations after Joseph had been in school for a while. They also told her that Joey could not wear an earring and must have school uniforms. She said she would call her lawyer, could she have a phone. The principal said “Fine, Mrs. Williams, as soon as you complete the enrollment form you will find the dismissal form completed next to it.” She took the earring from Joey’s ear and dressed him in the school uniform.

The school reported that Joey would not stay seated on the bus. Consequently, he could not ride it because it endangered the other students. The school was only two miles from Christie’s trailer. Christie could either find a way to get him there or solve the staying-seated problem. The school said that once Joey was in school he was fine. They were not certain he needed any medication. He was behind for his age but capable of learning and catching up. When his mother came to pick him up at school he did not want to go with her and clung to the teacher’s leg. They thought that was peculiar behavior. “Usually”, the Counselor said, “five year olds stick to their mothers and don’t go readily to strangers.” They didn’t know all that Joey had seen and heard in his few short years with Christie and me.

XI

On whatever side you turn… you see nothing but offenses; and all stink in my nostrils with a stench of mortal sin.
St Catherine of Siena

The first person to blame for anything is the person next to you, if you don’t mind if they get shot. Christie and Joseph began to complain about each other and Christie started writing to me about her complaints. Christie told me Joseph was a sex pervert who touched her leg and she had told her mother and her grandmother about it, but they said to keep quiet because no one would believe her. Joseph said Christie came to his house half dressed and went around outside with almost nothing on and flirted with his teenage boys and abused and ignored her children. Christie wrote one long accusatory letter to me about Joseph’s sexual harassment, but before mailing it showed it to his sons and his neighbors. He said she was trying to destroy his family and his relationships with his neighbors. She said all of his neighbors knew he was a pervert, they had told her so. Joseph said one neighbor almost destroyed his boys by giving them marijuana and they might say anything about him because he had their son arrested. It was all lies.

Dad went with Joseph to buy boards for the porch he was building in front of the trailer. Dad asked him to talk about Christie’s claims. He explained everything in much more detail than Dad asked. It went on and on. He said he never touched her except to remove her leg from the gas when she was speeding the car and he couldn’t get her to quit speeding. He said she was forever parading around in front of everyone in her nightclothes. He told her he didn’t want to have any woman but his wife. He was crippled and could not take this kind of talk. She promised his sons cigarettes and cigars if they would go along with her story about the sexual harassment. He said she had to leave if she continued to interfere with his family. Then he started about how his wife had had an affair a few years ago with a young man who was staying with them. It was a heart breaker for him, but she had repented, and things were going well now. His sons had told him about it and Nelly had admitted it.

Dad listened with a cloud over his head. He couldn’t get out of his mind that Christie had said the reason Joseph made advances toward her was to get even with his wife. How would Christie know about his wife? Did Joseph tell her? Did his son’s tell her? Dad needed to lock up everyone and give them truth serum. The Nazis were back in his brain.

Now, Dad had to unwind this supposed good idea. He had to find places where everyone could survive and be truthful. Maybe he didn’t have to do it. Maybe he only had to let everyone know what he was willing to do that was moral and that might help. Then they could take it or leave it.

Christie had gotten approved for welfare again. She had food stamps and Medicaid. Her ex-boyfriend, Joey’s father, had sent her $150 and the suggestion that she bring Joey and come to California. The school had kicked Joey off the bus and Christie had taken him out of school to go to the doctor. Dad went to the school and talked with the principal and a counselor. They were worried about the children because they had not asked Christie to take Joey out of school for any reason.
Dad went to see Christie at the trailer. Joseph had taken her and the babies to the doctor’s office. Dad waited a few minutes and Joseph returned alone. He said he had gone to four clinics before Christie found one that would accept her Medicaid card. He had left her at a pediatric clinic on Broadway. Joey had two black eyes. Christie had told the school nurse he bumped into a door. Joseph said the child often appeared too sleepy and would lie down on the ground outside. Christie said she was out of the medication the doctor had given Joey twenty days earlier. That meant thirty pills were missing.

Christie called from the clinic for someone to pick her up. Joseph and Dad went to get her. When they arrived she was walking toward the clinic from a service station about a block away. She had new prescriptions in her hand and an angry look on her face. After Christie and the babies got into the car, Dad asked her about the missing pills. He told her he had also spoken with the school about Joey. She told him it was none of his business and he should get out of her life. She said Joseph was a lying pervert and was trying to destroy her. She had the pills at home, somewhere, and that he would have to apologize when she found them and showed them to him.

They arrived at the trailer and Dad waited while she looked through everything. No pills were found. Shortly afterward, Christie’s grandmother came. Christie had called her to come from Splendora, a town about fifty miles from the trailer location. Christie said she was going to her mother’s house to chill-out for a few days. She took some clothes. Dad told her he would find another location for the trailer and he’d let her know about it.

Dad called the Children’s Protective Services and told them he was concerned about the safety and welfare of the children. He told them about the missing pills and the black eyes and Allen being seen in the street when his mother was not around. They said they would investigate promptly.

Dad wanted to find a spot for the trailer that was walking distance from the elementary school and near the bus line. He drove all around the neighborhood, but there were no spaces. He thought about getting another apartment, but there were none as near as required for people who had to walk. Then he decided that the best thing to do would be to offer to care for the children during the week so that Christie could get a job and support herself. That way she would not have to pay for childcare and could stay comfortably with her mother.

He told Christie, her mother, and her grandmother of the offer. They did not even answer. They assumed it was just a demand for child custody. It was not. Dad did not like caring for babies. It was a duty, not a great pleasure. He wished all the children in the world to be happy with their young mothers and fathers and to visit their grandparents when they wanted to play and were dry, clean, and smiling. He supported the idea of a large community of people with lots of young instinctual mothers and sporty playful fathers who run great schools and playgrounds and everyone under 12 is in bed by nine. He wanted those two children cared for and loved and not abused.

The CPS went to Sally’s house and began the investigation of Christie. As soon as they arrived Christie called Dad to tell him what a bastard she thought he was for reporting her. She said she had already convinced the policeman that she was a good mother and that the police told her she didn’t have to let Dad visit the children again. Dad asked Christie to let him talk with her mother.

Sally took the phone. She told Dad the CPS had placed the children and Christie in her custody until they completed their investigation. In the next breath, she told him her rent was due, her car was broken down, and she had only twenty dollars. She had been given an eviction notice and expected to move to another place in thirty days. Further, the apartment was for one occupant and if security knew that Christie and the boys were there she would have to go sooner.

XII

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us you know.
Emily Dickinson

Christie decided to write another letter to me in prison to tell me how she had filed charges against Joseph for sexual molestation and that she was divorcing me to be rid of the threat of losing custody of her children. She was also going to get money from her boyfriend, Jerry, and take the boys with her to California.

After I received the letter I called Dad from prison. I wanted to know where the boys were and if Christie was really off to California. He told me she wanted to go, but she and her whole family were waiting on the money to fall from the sky. I said I was concerned about the boys being at Sally’s apartment because Sally had been arrested and jailed a year before for prostitution. She also had dealt drugs in the past. I had been in her house when she was doing it. Of course, Christie said I was a liar.

I told Dad that Christie was wanted in Oceanside for failure to appear on a charge of selling narcotics at a Motel. Christie told Dad she worked at a Motel in Oceanside for six months cleaning forty-two rooms a day, yet still had to pay them $600 a month for a room. Life’s a crock.

Mom called Dad and told him he was doing the right thing. He told her, he wasn’t sure he knew what he was doing. Someone should come with a body bag and take him away. He thought he was dead.

Mom and Dad didn’t see or talk with Christie for ten months. They filed suit for the right to visit with Allen. In Texas, the State had passed a law to give grandparents visitation rights. Christie filed an objection but failed to appear at the trial. The Judge granted them visitation one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer and at Christmas. Also, Christie had to tell them where she lived at all times.

In November of 2000 Christie and her mother were evicted from her mother’s apartment. Sally went to her mother’s house to live. Christie and the children went to Star of Hope Mission in Galveston. Sally and her mother would not allow Christie to stay with them. During the time she was with Sally she had pawned all of Sally’s stuff that was worth more than a few dollars. Sally’s mother said Christie had beaten Sally and that they screamed at each other all of the time.

Neither Children’s Protective Services nor the lawyers Mom and Dad consulted thought that the court would take the children away from Christie. I thought they were all nuts. Christie planned to go back to California with Joey’s father, Jerry. That is, as soon as he got off probation and sent her the money to do it.
XIII

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
Emily Dickinson

I had plans of my own, but I could not do much about them. Until I was transferred to Oakdale Prison in Louisiana, I had been locked up in an 8’ by 10’ room with two other people. The room had a mattress on the floor, a steel American Standard without a lid, a shower, a small table and a chair. There was about four feet of walking space, if my two roommates were on their bunks. I was guilty of having retrieved a shotgun from a pawnshop when I was on probation for a DWI offense. The shotgun belonged to a friend and was not in working order. I had never used it, but having it was a Federal crime with a mandatory sentence of not less than twenty-seven months.

I put twenty cigarette burns on my arms, my eye twitched, I was overweight, I couldn’t sleep at night because they gave me Paxil which kept me awake. They wouldn’t give me anything that would let me sleep. Six of the other prisoners said I owed them interest on money I borrowed from them. If I didn’t pay it they said they would stab me. The amount I borrowed was $500, which I paid back, but the amount still owed was $600 interest. The lending terms in prison are a little stronger than offered by the crooks on the outside.

In order to protect me the guards put me in the Special Housing Unit ( S.H.U.), took away 41 days of good time, eliminated any chance of my going to a half-way house, and told me I would be in that hole for the duration of my sentence.

When Mom and Dad came to visit me the guards separated me from the other prisoners into a locked and barred room and limited the visit to an hour. I had to wear a stained, bright colored orange jump suit. The other prisoners, not from S.H.U., wore clean and pressed uniforms. I had no commissary privileges and was given a two-inch pencil to use for writing and a toothbrush with the handle cut in half. I suppose, if the pencil and toothbrush were longer, they could be made into dangerous weapons. But why just in the S.H.U.?

When they moved me to the S.H.U., the other prisoners stole my personal belonging and cut my shower shoes in half. I had a good collection of books that Mom and Dad had sent to me over the previous year. I had read them all. I had bought a Leroy Lettering Set that I used to draw house plans. The prison would not let me have the usual architectural drawing tools, but another prisoner had got the lettering set in some mysterious way. I bought it from him for about ten times its worth. It had a straight edge lettering guide with which I could draw but not measure. I was going to tell the guards where the thieves hid all of their contraband. I thought they would get another ten or twenty years added to their time. I never did it.

Racial gangs, who fight often and fiercely, dominated the prison. One man in the S.H.U. with me said he was only watching a fight and was taken as a participant and put into the hole where he stayed for four months. Security looks tight to a visitor, but there are important drug dealer connections to the outside and those who are related to the mob get whatever they want brought in. The economy inside is based on stamps devalued to $.25 and the payoff for contraband is done by having friends and relatives pay people on the outside who then deal for what the prisoner inside is owed. Food, drinks, drugs, sex, and gambling are the extra rides that structure time.

The work at the prison is production of plastic junk furniture and diesel engines. Some prisoners work seven days a week for about $200 a month in those industries. Long prison terms mean much cheap labor for our great society. Who stinketh the most – those inside or those who lock us up?

Guards are not paid much, but much is expected of them. The prisoners do not consider them bright lights, and think that if they were not being paid salaries by the federal government they would be unable to find work elsewhere. Each day or two, when the block guard left his office, some prisoner would break off a matchstick with glue on it in his door lock. They had to replace the lock and it took all day. It was very amusing to us and helped structure prison time. It didn’t do much for guard/inmate relations.

All of the prison buildings look very neat and clean. The rows and stacks of razor wire shined like the swords of Roman foot soldiers sticking out between their shields. It was as if the people in the prison were actually worst than the people who put them there and hold them in cages. It would make me feel much better if I knew that were so, but I don’t know. I really think we are just a brutal and ignorant society. The fact that our ancestors may have been worse is no justification for the current systems of punishment. There is apparently no system for rehabilitation.

If there had not been intervention, I may have died in the S.H.U. I did not care. My Dad had an uncle, Bobby, who was an addict. By the time he was thirty he had been in rehab hospitals several times and finally they sent him to the State Prison in Sugarland. He died there. Prisoners beat him to death while the guards watched. Dad didn’t know why.

Like Bobby, I was an intelligent man, and it was very hard to make me believe that our society was honest, fair, and just. I wanted to be with my son and I vowed to divorce Christie and seek custody. I thought I could do it because Christie was a basket-case her whole life because of sex, drugs, and poverty. Neither I nor Christie understood what it really meant to be parents. The position of the court in this matter was to sort out the bodies. There was no advance intelligence at work like in the movies.

XIV

Think neither fear nor courage saves us.
Unnatural vices are fathered by our heroism.
Virtues are forced upon us by our imprudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath bearing tree.
T.S. Eliot

Mom and Dad visited me once a week. It took all day. Most of the time was spent driving and waiting at the prison. New visitors found it hard to understand why every process was so slow and why they had to wait so long to see their relative or friend. They got accustomed to the system. The visits helped me and it helped them. We learned patience and humility.

Mom and Dad wanted to bring my three-year-old son, Allen, to see me, but they were unable to enforce the visitation rights gained in court. Christie was afraid she would lose custody of Allen if she let him visit them. She had lost custody of four other children in California to their father, her ex-boyfriend.

The Prison planned to transfer me to Oakdale, Louisiana. They said it was for my protection. That move would limit the times anyone could visit with me. My hope was that I would serve the remaining 14 months and find a way to rid my heart of resentment and learn what love meant, even in Prison.

When I was first sent to Federal Prison, the State of Texas placed a detainer order on me. The reason was that I still had a DWI conviction that had not been adjudicated. The result was that they added 12 points to my prison record. The added points placed me in the medium security prison instead of the low security prison. My attorney asked the State Court to sentence me to the same time as I was serving in Federal Prison and to let the terms run concurrently. The State agreed and the District Attorney sent documents to the Federal Prison for me to sign to conclude the agreement. The result should have been that the detainer would be removed. What actually happened was much different.

On August 2, 2000 the documents were sent to the Warden’s office at Federal Correctional Institute in Beaumont, TX. The lady in charge of receiving and processing the documents insisted repeatedly for a month that she had not gotten any documents concerning me, evidence to the contrary not-with-standing. Then my attorney had the documents delivered by Federal Express on September 10th and Dad witnessed the delivery at the prison. Still, the lady in charge continued to insist she had no documents. Finally, on the 16th of September, the Warden passed by my cell to question the inmates before the scheduled inspection by the Region of the Federal Bureau of Prisons on the 17th. I told him about the missing papers. An hour later the lady in charge brought the papers to my cell for signature. Her parting words to me were that there was nothing in the documents that would cause them to remove my detainer.

The importance of this to me was that the delay in getting the papers caused me to miss the opportunity to have an early release to a halfway house. While the documents were being held back my prison counselor went out of his way to let me know about the lost opportunity and the unfortunate situation. Then to help me cope they put a man into the cell with me who was truly crazy. He talked to himself for hours in the mirror and changed between being Jesus Christ and Bruce Lee. When he was not changing personalities he read the Bible and laughed aloud every few minutes. I couldn’t have a rational conversation with him. He was in the S.H.U. because the guards did not know what else to do with him and the Prison apparently did not want to deal with psychiatric cases in the usual way of a normal society, whatever that means.

An extraordinary effort was made by my attorney to see that my detainer was lifted from the Federal Prison’s computer system before I was transferred to the other Federal Prison. It was lifted, but I don’t know how. Some of the prisoners who had detainers lifted and had the documents from the court in hand and were represented by attorneys were still unable to get them removed from the Prison’s computer system and remained in Federal Prison after their sentences were served. So much for Habeas Corpus.

After I was transferred to Oakdale I was treated more fairly. Mom and Dad visited me every two weeks until I was released.

While I was in Oakdale, Mom and Dad hired a private investigator to find Christie and the children. She found them in February 2001. She served Christie with an order to appear in court for a contempt hearing regarding their visitation rights with Allen. In May they had a day in court and the visitation times were doubled to every two weeks instead of once a month. They had Allen every other weekend after that court date. Christie wanted them to take Joey too, since he also thought of them as his grandparents. Mom said the boys were very good and much fun. They brought them to visit me three times and it was good.

XV

My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
What are you thinking of? What thinking/ what?
I never know what you are thinking.

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
T.S. Eliot

I don’t know what Christie did to support herself. Joey says that his mother and his uncle smoked crack together and that he was not supposed to tell anyone about it. Perhaps she made her money by dealing drugs? This news was upsetting to Mom and Dad. I thought people sold drugs because they didn’t have any other way to get money. Mom called CPS. They took a report, but gave no indication they could do anything about the situation. They asked if the boys were clean and well fed. Mom said yes, but wondered what difference that made.

I was released from prison August 18, 2001. I was angry with Christie and decided not to try to see her until it was necessary. Mom and Dad had the boys on the first weekend I was out and I wanted to keep them. I decided against it because that would have violated their grandparent visitation order. I had resolved not to cause more trouble.

About a week after my release I decided to go back to Christie. I wanted to be with boys, but I wanted Christie, too. We agreed with each other enough to start going to counseling together twice a month. It was relatively peaceful between us for about six months.

In September of 2001 I told Mom that Christie was pregnant. It reminded me of Will Durant’s statement that nature favors quantity regardless of how the educated classes strive to have it otherwise. I decided to build a house on nearby property Mom’s mother had left to her. Mom and Dad paid for the material and I built the house. The hope was that Christie and I and the children would have a place to live in good times or bad.
Mom and Dad said that it was not an unselfish act on their part because, if the future held more disasters than blessing, then having the grandchildren nearby would be a way to look after them more easily.

On the 22nd of February Christie gave birth to Betty Ann Williams. She was a pretty baby, 9lbs 3ozs, dark hair and blue-green eyes. I, of course, was not the biological father, but I insisted that I was to everyone else. I also insisted that UFOs were still landing in our back field. My notions did not make people sleep well at night. Funny it is how strong and healthy Christie’s children are. It reminds me of Woody Allen’s, “Sleeper,” where everything we think is right and normal is the opposite in the future. I really enjoyed reading Schopenhauer in prison.

On Wednesday, May 15, 2002 Christie and I left the children with Mom while I went to see my psychologist and Christie went shopping. On our way home I refused to stop at a store to get the WIC foodstuffs. Christie became very angry and by the time we arrived home we were in a full-blown yelling fight. Christie went to Mom’s house and got the two boys and returned to the old house at the front of our property. We continued to argue. I left in the Van with the baby, and Christie took the boys and went to our neighbor’s house. I had told her to leave and not come back. She called the police and reported me for threatening her. She called her grandmother the come get her from the neighbor’s house. Dad went to see her and asked her to come back and talk with him and Mom and me. He wanted to resolve the fight between us.

In about an hour I returned with the baby. Shortly afterward Christie arrived. Both of us saw each other on the driveway near the old house and we both walked hastily toward the new house in the back. We were arguing as we walked. I was telling her not to come back to the house. Dad stepped outside as we approached and told me that he had asked her to come and to talk. I thought she had come to take the baby from Mom. We did not have any physical contact.

We went into the living room. In about five minutes Mom and I went outside, leaving Dad to talk with Christie. They talked for about twenty minutes. It was a calm conversation in which Dad told Christie that he and Mom wanted to have a peaceful resolution to this fight for their sake and for the children and for their peace and quiet. She said that she did not trust them and that she feared she would lose her children as had happened in California. She said I abused her and she wanted me to admit it. She said that Betty was not my child and that she wanted her returned immediately. She said that she wanted her stuff and her mother’s stuff from the old house. Dad told her she could take whatever she thought was hers. He told her he thought it was a bad idea to take all those children into the streets with no means to care for them. He asked her to just go to her grandmother’s house and cool down and let me do the same thing overnight so that the problems could be dealt with better in a day or so. She said no. She intended to bring the police and take her baby back.

Christie returned to the driveway entrance of the property where her grandmother had parked her van blocking the entrance. They were awaiting the arrival of the police. About 9 P.M. Deputy Vela arrived. He parked behind Christie’s grandmother’s Van. Dad walked up to him, identified himself and shook Vela’s hand. He said he wanted to talk with Christie and me and hear from us what was going on. Dad invited him to come with Christie to the house where Mom and I were sitting with the baby. Vela told Dad to ask me to come to the front instead. Dad said okay. He got me, Mom and the baby.

We drove in Dad’s car to the front of the property. Mom and I got out of the car and went to the front of Christie’s grandmother’s van to stand and talk with Officer Vela and Christie. Dad stayed in the car with the baby. Christie walked away from the van toward the street and Officer Vela called out to me to come out into the street behind his car. Mom and I said for him to come over to us to talk. Officer Vela then came back to Mom and me in a very hurried manner and told me that if I didn’t come out to the street he would spray me. I ran. Officer Vela chased me for about fifty yards. He then went back to his car and called for backup police. They said they would find me and arrest me.

I left the property entirely. The backup arrived, looked over the property and in the houses and could not find me. Dad told them that I would likely return and that they would tell me to get an attorney and give up. They called their attorney and asked what they should do regarding the baby. He told them they had to give the baby to her parents. Christie was there. They gave her the baby. Christie and the police left.

The next day I returned. I retained an attorney and as soon as the charges were known he and I went to the judge, answered the charges and posted bond. That same afternoon Dad returned from work and encountered Christie leaving the house with some of her stuff. He told her that it was okay.

That evening Mom and Dad closed the house. Neither Christie nor I were around and we had no keys to the old house. Mom and Dad can’t see the old house from their new house in the back. They had building equipment and tools in the old house, so they blocked the doors to protect the property overnight. About 10 P.M. Dad heard people at the old house. He called the police and reported intruders. He walked around the lake to the old house and saw Christie engaged in an argument with someone who was a relative of her family. He didn’t know what they were saying. He told the police they were there and to send a policemen. They did it. In about an hour Dad heard no more sounds from the old house. Mom called the police again and they told her that Christie and several other people had been taking stuff from the old house, but that they had told them to leave and they had done so.

The next morning we found that two windows had been broken out of the house, one in the back door and another in the front of the house. We don’t know all that was taken. The gate was also damaged so that the sliding cross-pipe had been bent and would not close. Mom and Dad were not happy.

As it turns out, happiness is relative. On Sunday the 19th of May 2002 all of the trouble written about above became nothing. Dad went to play golf about 10 A.M. and Mom began to clean the yard around the old house. The previous evening I had gone to make bail for my friend, Bubba, and I had returned to sleep in the old house. I didn’t get out of bed until late. Mom asked me to do some things and I acted mean to her as I had periodically done in years past. I wanted her to have done something to keep Christie off the property and away from my stuff. Mom decided to leave and check into a hotel rather than face my strange mood.

About 7:50 P.M. I left a message on Dad’s cell phone saying to call me, NOW. I left the same message on Mom’s phone about five minutes later. Then about a minute after that I left another message on Mom’s phone that to her sounded weak and needy. Dad called me about 8 PM. I told him I had driven over Christie with the Van and then had backed over her and I thought she was dead. I said I had also driven over a neighbor and maybe killed him. I had the baby with me and I intended to kill myself by taking drugs. I told him I had plenty of drugs with which to do it. He told me to please not hurt the baby and to take her to someone before I did anything else. I told Dad I only wanted him to do one thing: tell my children that I had loved them. I hung up. I cried. I took the baby to my aunt Irma.

XVI

I want to go someplace
Where there are no modern things,
Where they’ve no wound metal
And no plastic,
And no silver,
And no gold.

I want to go someplace
Where you wear your soul outside
And where your skin keeps you warm
And where the earth trembles in the morning
When the sun shines on it
And where you smell burning wood.

When I am finally there,
When I am at the place
where the earth trembles,
where the sun warms my skin,
where my soul is outside,
where I smell the burning wood,
then I will be home.

Dad and Mom arrived at Irma’s house after the Sheriff’s deputies and their rescue team. The rescue team was looking for me in the woods, but it was very dark and their heat tracking equipment did not pick up any tracks. They stayed for about two hours asking questions of Irma, Raymond, and Mom about me and the incident. They called the Liberty County Sheriff to discover that I was wanted for the automobile assault of Christie and the neighbor. They did not search the Van, but waited until the Liberty County Deputy and tow truck took the Van to the storage lot in Cleveland. Sergeant Melton then explained to Mom that they could not safely look for me in the dark and dense woods. Later, he told Mom that someone in Liberty had spotted me near their home.

The report about seeing me had been false, but it did call off all efforts of the police to look for me in the dark or in the sunny woods for the next ten days.

Sergeant Melton told Mom that Christie and the neighbor had both been taken to the hospital. Christie had a broken ankle and cuts on her head. They later discovered that no broken bones appeared on her X-rays. The neighbor had two broken legs. Christie was released from the hospital emergency at 2 A.M. Monday. She called Dad at 8A.M. and left a message on his cell phone saying: “He tried to kill me three times. Are you going to defend him now?”

Dad wishes he had answered the phone. He could have told her he was sorry for her injuries, angry about my violence, and didn’t want to defend anyone. He had wanted us to stay apart for the days before it all had happened. Two evening before he had stood in the dark in the driveway between the old house in order to be sure to keep us apart if one of us decided to check on the other. Christie was unloading her stuff from the old house and I was at the new house in the back cooling my heals. He harbored a false notion that time would cool our heads and maybe let us separate and divorce without emotionally killing him or Mom.

Neither Christie nor I could let go of visions of ourselves wronged and the desire to get even with each other. Other people were just transportation, material support, and weapons for defense. We were two armies and a legion. I thought she was dead. I think that it pleased me. She thought I was alive. That didn’t scare her. I’ve seen movies like this. I didn’t think you could really see that crap in real life. Narcissus had tried to slay Hydra but didn’t know he had to cauterize the wound. He fell into his own image and drowned. I am dead to everyone no matter what happened.

Dad looked for my body two times that Summer. It was blackberry season. The woods where he thought I might have been were full of sweet ripe berries. When Hassan and Dad looked for my body they couldn’t resist eating the berries. Sometimes they forgot what they were doing. Sometimes nothing matters.

Mom washed 35 loads of clothes left by me and Christie. She says it was a good way to pass the time. She and Judy spent two days cleaning the trash out of the old house. Christie called and said not to touch her stuff, Mom hung up.

Mom and Dad filed a missing person report. The police made them copy it onto the police form. Writing it by hand shortened what they wanted to say.

There were warrants for my arrest from Liberty County. I had been manic-depressive for years and I took drugs to control it, but that Sunday I also drank a bottle of rum and left the empty bottle in the car. I had always called someone within a few days of getting in trouble. I had always given myself up in the past, but this good Sunday I took my life.

XVII

It is better not to see life as it is;
Worthless, full of accidents,
Washed and burned like cast off wood.

People have no regard for your unplanned destiny
And see no value in you having just appeared
Like the broken part of another’s discarded things.

Seven months after my death, while I was trapped looking at my remains, the Sheriff in New Caney found a badly decomposed body near Caney Creek. It wasn’t my body. Nevertheless, they called Dad to ask for my dental records. He took them to the Coroner’s office in Houston. This was a premonition of what was going to happen when the little dog finally brought them my skull. It was a practice drill for Dad. The remains they found had belonged to a store clerk who had been abducted and murdered in Houston and his body dumped in New Caney. Then, in November the Sheriff found another body near Conroe. Mom and Dad were not notified about that body. The Sheriff knew it was not me. People disappear. I disappeared. For my family it had the same impact as death, but they never got over it.

Christie left too. She called Dad a few times after she was hurt by me and said she wanted her stuff. Mom had cleaned it, packed it and Dad took it all to her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother died. Christie moved and Mom and Dad were unable to find her or to see the children. They hired an attorney to help them restore their grandparent visitation rights. In November Christie sued them because they owned the car I was driving when I ran over her. She said they should have known I would do that and not let me use their car. State Farm defended them. The trial was to have been in August of 2003, but the insurance company decided to settle out of court.

Christie complained so many times to the local police about their not finding me alive that they told Mom and Dad’s Lawyer where she was and one of the deputies served Christie the notice of the contempt of court suit they had filed to enforce their grandparent visitations.

A few days before Christmas, Mom and Dad took presents to Christie and the children. Christie had just moved into a mobile home about one mile from their house. The children looked healthy. The place was a wreck, but it was as expected given the difficulty of Christie’s life. She expected to cash in on the auto insurance claim, but her out-of-court settlement went to reimburse Medicaid and to pay her attorney. She was supposed to have gotten two thousand dollars, but the defense of her contempt of court for the failure to allow visitation with the grandchildren left her money with her attorney.

The attorney for State Farm gathered several volumes of evidence against Christie from California and from her medical records. The information turned out to be valuable in a way Mom and Dad never expected.

At the contempt hearing Christie agreed to comply with the visitation orders and Mom and Dad began to see Allen and Joey every other week. Betty was not part of the original order and they decided to wait until she was a little older before trying to gain visitation rights for her.

Christie’s attorney helped her get an apartment in a HUD project in Cleveland. It was walking distance from the schools and all of the services she needed. Her neighbors seemed to be both helpful and friendly. The boys made friends with some of the other children and two of the neighbors provided transportation to Christie when she needed to go places.

At the end of July, 2003 Dad went to pick up the boys at their apartment. Jerry Jones, Joey’s father, was visiting with them. He had driven from California and had been staying at the apartment for about a week. He told Dad that Christie was at the doctor’s office with Betty. Dad took the boys as usual and did not give any thought to the encounter.

XVIII

All that mankind has in common today is suffering.
Joy is alive in this suffering only as hope,
but nonetheless as joyful faith in a better future.
Without this joyful courage there would be no mutual help.
The help given by one person to another proves that in spite of everything,
faith in future healing cannot die.
Eberhart Arnold

About two weeks after Dad had picked up the boys for the weekend visitation, he got a call from Jerry. Jerry had returned to California and had just received a call from one of Christie’s neighbors. Children’s Protective Services had picked up the children from Christie. She had had another baby on July 25, 2003. You would have thought that Mom or Dad would have noticed that she was pregnant during the many months when they picked up the boys, but Christie had been fat for as long as they had known her and they didn’t notice the difference in her appearance and she didn’t tell them.

The reason CPS had taken the children was a neighbor had told them the baby was very sick and looked starved. CPS investigated and took the baby immediately to Texas Children’s Hospital. The baby, Donnie, had a birth weight of eight pounds and, in two weeks, had lost one pound. He was not eating, had a severe diaper rash, and thrush. The pictures of him that were shown in court made the lawyers cry out loud. The CPS case workers questioned Joey and Allen about the baby and the boys said that their mother had told them that Donnie was going to die, but it would be okay.

Christie had taken the baby back to the doctor twice. The doctor had changed the formulae and prescribed some medication for the thrush. The second time she had gone to the doctor she became impatient in the waiting room after about a two hour delay, got angry, and left. Later, Dad had to go back to that doctor so the doctor could examine Donnie again. Dad had a ten o’clock appointment. The doctor came at ten, and saw Donnie at twelve-thirty. His nurse told Dad the doctor was always late on every appointment unless you had the first one after lunch at two o’clock.

Christie didn’t know how to handle the situation. I think she gave up and resigned herself to the death of Donnie. Neither her neighbors, her boys, nor the case-workers from CPS were so resigned.

The day after Dad received the call from Jerry Jones he drove to the court-house in Liberty, Texas to find when the hearing was set for Christie in this child abuse case. It was to be the next day. He then drove to the CPS office and talked with a case worker. They knew nothing of me or Mom or Dad or anything about the grandparent visitation orders, but they were glad to find someone. Dad then contacted his lawyer, Mary Cooper, and asked her to write a brief to join with CPS in the suit the next day. He returned to the court and got a copy of the CPS suit to give to Mary. She completed the documents they needed that day and Dad filed them with the court for the hearing on Tuesday morning.

The hearing was very difficult because CPS had strong photographic evidence that Christie had neglected the baby. Also, Christie, even though she was represented by an attorney, repeatedly interrupted the lawyers, the witnesses, and the Judge with her objections and explanations of her circumstances and actions. Her mother, Sally, was called as a witness and stated that she was ready and willing to care for the children. The attorney for CPS presented evidence that Sally had been convicted of DWI charges three times and prostitution once. She could not pass CPS inspection as a caregiver. Christie was questioned about the condition of the baby and stated that she could not get timely and proper medical care from the doctor and had done the best she could do under the circumstances. When asked about the paternity of Donnie she said he had no father. The District Attorney then asked her if Donnie were “immaculately conceived” and she answered, “Yes.” She then volunteered that Betty was not Walter’s daughter and suggested that the court do the math.

CPS presented evidence that Christie had repeatedly gotten Hydrocodone prescriptions during the term of her pregnancy and asked her if she had taken it regularly. She said she had until she found that she was pregnant, but that she did not know she was pregnant until the fifth month. The CPS attorney then asked her how she could not have known since she had already been through eight pregnancies. Also, the evidence showed that she had gotten new prescriptions even after the five month period.

CPS asked the judge to place all of the children under the temporary custody of CPS and to allow them to place the children with my parents after they had completed a background check and an inspection of their home. The Judge granted their motion. Christie collapsed in tears in the hallway outside the court while her lawyer was telling her she did it to herself.

The judge’s orders required that all the children be medically examined and psychologically tested and that Christie also, be tested for drugs, tested psychologically, and that she attend parenting classes. She was to be allowed to have supervised visits with her children twice a month for one hour each visit.

Mom and Dad passed the CPS inspection and the children were brought to their home in September 2003. It had been twenty-eight years since they had cared for any babies. It has not been as hard as they thought it would be. Old people don’t need as much sleep, so getting up in the night to feed an infant was not a burden like it is on the young. The children have been very happy with them and generally very good-natured. This is the first time the older boys had a stable place to live. In six months Donnie grew to 20 lbs. Mom calls him her “hunk of burning love” since he looked like Elvis when he first arrived. Betty began to talk before she was two. She went through a phase saying “no” to every question and everything else was, according to Allen, some sort of alien language. She also controlled the word “mine” in ways every parent and sibling understands. Now she has sentences Allen understands and has been a joy to be around. Allen started to Kindergarten and loved it. He’s very smart and makes friends at school very easily. Mom helped Joey to read and do math. He was at pre-kindergarten level and is now about second grade even though he is in fourth grade in the public school. His intelligence is average, but in some thinking skills he is above average. He is very good at building complex toys with lego and in playing computer games. His math is better than his language, but if he is given a stable environment he can eventually catch up with his class. The public schools will not help him very much. Everything for him will depend on help at home.

Joey’s Dad got custody of him and took him to California. Jerry is single man in his late thirties, a master auto mechanic, and an even-tempered guy. He has been paying child support for years, but has never had an opportunity to gain custody of Joey until now. They are not strangers and they like each other. Joey said he was going to share his Dad with his brothers and sisters who don’t have a dad.

XIX

I don’t blame god
I don’t really blame him,
If, like god, I had no voice
And no inclination to speak, I’d say nothing.
Imagine, god put us all here;
Murders, thieves, and saints.
Everyday some of us die,
And we lie to each other about it. We say it is fate,
As if god weren’t the first cause.
For as long as he is silent
And the saints are murders, thieves,
And liars, he’s dead.
And I don’t blame god,
Not really.

More than a year passed with my soul trapped in the woods. During that time Christie went through all of the required classed dictated by CPS, but she could not pass them. She also came to all of the supervised visitations, but she could not befriend the case workers. She was never able to find any work. She lost her HUD housing. Finally, she got pregnant again, delivered the child on the kitchen floor, and CPS took that baby away. Mom and Dad got permanent custody of Allen, Betty and Donnie. Christie has not seen the children since the court gave custody to Mom and Dad.

I have been unable to find Christie in any dreams or in the dimension I am learning to use. If I could find her, I would ask forgiveness. I would give her what insight I have been given. I would help her find all of her children and the joy I have in seeing them now.

What I see now, which is not much, makes me laugh at what I heard when I was alive. I went to my aunt’s funeral and I heard the preachers tell us about her new life in this dimension.

The first one said,
And I know this, that whatever God does is final – nothing can be added or taken from it; God’s purpose in this is that man should fear the all-powerful God.

Whatever is, has been long ago, and whatever is going to be has been before; God brings to pass again what was distant past and disappeared.

Moreover, I notice that throughout the earth justice is giving way to crime and even the police courts are corrupt. I said to myself, ‘In due season God will judge everything man does, both good and bad.’

And then I realized that God is letting the world go its sinful way so that he can test mankind, and so that men themselves will see that they are no better than the beasts.

For men and animals both breathe the same air and both die. So mankind has no real advantage over the beasts; what an absurdity!

All go to one place – the dust from which they came and to which they must return.

The second preacher said, “This reading is from St. Paul’s letter to
the Corinthians, Chapter 5, Verses 1 through 8.”

For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down –
when we die and leave these bodies – we will have wonderful new
bodies in heaven, homes that will be ours forever, made for us by
God himself, and not by human hands. How weary we grow of our
present bodies. That is why we look forward eagerly to the day
when we shall put on new clothes. For we shall not be merely
spirits without bodies. These earthly bodies make us groan and
sigh, but we wouldn’t like to think of dying and having no bodies
at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying
bodies will, as it were, be swallowed up by everlasting life.
That is what God has prepared for us and as a guarantee, he has
given us his Holy Spirit.

Then the third preacher came to the pulpit and began to talk about my Aunt Gloria.
He said, “My dear friends, I knew Gloria well. We have talked many times and she told me much about herself and about her wonderful family. She was a loving wife and parent. Her family will miss her very much. It is always hard to bury a loved one and it is especially hard to bury someone who has been taken before her time. It reminds me of the story of Lasarus whom our Lord raised from the dead. He had died before his time and he was buried and his body had begun to decay. Jesus came to him and called to him to come out of his tomb and Lasarus was raised from the dead. By our faith we know that is what Jesus will do for Gloria. Unlike Lasarus who died again, Jesus will raise up Gloria to live an eternal life with him in heaven. That is the essence of our faith and that, I am sure, is what Gloria believed before she died.

The fourth preacher read a poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay. Before he read it he made some comments about the meaning of the Christian service. He said, ”Everyone must someday face the hour of his death, as has Gloria We are never prepared. No ritual, no ceremony, no amount of consolation from another will make that hour easier or the passage to eternal life more certain. You die alone, with or without your faith. We Christians have a faith in God and a hope in the resurrection and in the life of the world to come.

Recalling Aunt Gloria’s funeral and seeing what I now see, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to let the family bury their relatives in their back yards, just like Mom and Dad hung my skull in a tree. Somehow it seems to me to be more natural and humane.

Now that I have escaped this social programming, I can pick on religion, but I see that everything of value in our lives is bundled into some sort of half-baked theory of reality.

When the Preacher read the poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay, I almost choked when he said how lovely it was. He just had no idea how far away her thoughts were from the kind of faith he was talking about. Preachers probable don’t believe their own scripts any more than the rest of us. I think they just have a more polite kind of hustle than a banker or a bartender. Isn’t everyone praying that God won’t get him; preachers, bankers, and bartenders? They just wrap that fear in the books of their trades.

It would be better if we eliminated books and writing and stripped ourselves down to our biological inheritance and our spoken languages. We would still have our myths, but perhaps they would flower without the straight jacket of abstractions.

What a hue and a cry we would hear from the education drummers. What difference would it make if the written word disappeared, it’s not being used to communicate anyway.

Imagine this. If, instead of burying Gloria in that rather strange ceremony. Instead of letting strangers lead us from place to place in their black suits and black limousines, we had taken charge. We had taken Gloria’s body to her house and laid it out on sheets on the dining room table. Then ate and drank and talked. Some of us had led a dance out of the house into the back yard. There we would have taken turns digging a huge hole. Everyone could have cried and said whatever they felt. Then we could have gone into the house and gotten her body and carried it out to the yard and lowered it slowly into the hole we had dug. Then everyone would have gone back inside and ate and drank some more. After a little while we would have gone to the back door and called out, ‘Gloria, come out.’ Then we would waited, because we wouldn’t have known whether she would come out. If she didn’t come after an hour, we could have all gone back outside and shoveled the dirt into the hole until there was a mound. Gloria’s friends could have danced around the mound and we could all have thrown wild flowers on it. Then we could all have hugged each other, gone inside, and forgotten the ceremony entirely.

That’s the way it is going to be for me when everyone finally gets together by the tree where my skull hangs and has the party I’m anticipating.

XX

Letter to Mom from Prison

Its takes more strength to not pull the trigger of the shotgun in your mouth than it does to wake up each day and keep going on. It’s not the fear of going to hell (as I was taught in catholic school) that could result in your own murder. It’s the fear that the feeling you have at that moment may follow you when you leave this life. I’ve never been afraid of death, I ‘ve only been afraid to die with a tormented spirit. I’m still trying to accept life and all of its imperfections and sorrows, but it is easier now than it was. Maybe it is true that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but I think sometimes he overestimates my ability to endure.

These feeling are not unique. They have been around since the beginning of time and will persist until it ends. I’m really very lucky. My life could have been a lot worse. I’ve never lacks shelter, love, food, or stability like so many others have. I just feel like sometimes I was born on the wrong planet. I don’t share the same desires as most others such as a good job, a house, a car, or any other material needs. I think that pre-historic man had it better in a lot of ways. Their goals were more down to earth. They hunted, foraged, and prepared for the winter and this was most important. A man can’t live that way anymore without the threat of being imprisoned. Most people are helpless and dependent on a capitalistic system and would starve to death if McDonald’s closed down because of a collapse of government and the paper money they depend on. History has taught me that no government lasts forever. Natural disaster or revolt can happen at any time and usually does leaving the unprepared to die through their ignorance. These thoughts have been my toughest battle in life and made me wonder if its worth living in a world in such a state of helplessness. So, with the thought of my children and the fact that there are some unselfish, caring people out there I continue to persevere and take what comes along.

My earliest memories are of my Great Grandmother. This may be because she gave me bags of pennies when I came to see her. Her daughter, my grandmother, said that whenever my Great Grandmother would give me a cookie I would always bring the first one to her. I can’t recall my motives, except that I probably liked her best. She was as Polish as you could get and I recall her singing to me in Polish. My siblings and I all refer to her as our Bopschi (grandma,in Polish) and I have taught my children to call my mother the same which pleases her very much even though they still confuse my Mom and Dad and end up calling my Dad, Bopschi, instead. I have more sibling than I think is possible and I blame it of the fact that we’re all catholic. This can be good and bad. I never lacked company when I was little and I love my brothers and sisters very much although my Mom informed me that when she brought my brother home from the hospital I became jealous and I would go up and hit him while he was nursing. I eventually came to accept the fact that I wasn’t the center of attention and was rewarded with six years in catholic school with a sadistic Irish Nun named Sister Jerome. She was my third grade teacher and was hell bent on drilling arithmetic into our heads even if violence was the only way to achieve this goal. She was particularly hard on the girls in class especially during flash card games. The girls were never as quick as the boys in calculating numbers mentally for some reason and would receive a prompt knot on their heads as they passed sister Jerome. I survived Sister Jerome and catholic school and actually remember those times as some of the best in my life which is a feeling I would have found unthinkable at the time.

Puberty was for me like back stroking across the Atlantic with one arm. This is when the hardest struggle of my life began and didn’t end until I was thirty. I think my parents and siblings suffered from it as much as I did and are still waiting cautiously for a relapse on my behalf. Between my hormone imbalance, a motorcycle wreck that cut off my right foot, becoming a manic-depresive, and a drug and alcohol addict it is truly amazing I’m alive. Or maybe it’s just unlucky that I’m alive because death probably would have cured a lot of my problems and desires during those years. Either way, I’m still here so I guess I should try to make the best of it. My mother still worries that I could slip back into my old behavior and I sympathize with her , although I know I’m beyond most of that now. So, I think I’ll give her a nervous twitch or stare off into space every now and then just to keep her on her toes. I wanted to self destruct back then and often went out of my way to do so. Being manic and an alcoholic didn’t help much either. I think I’m better for it now because there is almost nothing that can shock or worry me anymore. So, thanks to all my family for not hog-tying me and mailing me to Siberia ( although I’m sure this was a consideration at the time) and seeing me through eighteen years of hell.

Now, I have a child of my own and a wife who is crazier than I ever could have been proving to me that you can’t have a bicycle and a seat on it at the same time. At least, if my child starts to experience the same problems I did at age twelve, I’ll know what to do. I will build a fortess with a restraining chair in the center of it and start stocking up on thorizine so that I am prepared. I am also confident that I will not only die before Mom, but also get the last tag making me the winner of a long running bet with her and assuring her that she never sees a day without me. Until then , I guess I’ll keep going on and accept this world and all of its shortcomings until my true alien ancestors come to claim me back.

I left this note in my wallet in the Van when I took the pills and ran away.

Suicide, it’s not a game that I’m trying to hide.
I could care less whether I live or die.
There’s nothing left for me in this world today.
I’m so glad that I took myself away.

Everything I had to live for is gone forever.
It’s easier this way, it’s for the better.

All I wanted was a family and a house in the hills.
And to work all week to just pay the bills
But that will never happen and there’s nothing else to say
Because I committed suicide today!

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