Favorite Writing

Living on a Wing and a Prayer

Prologue

17 February 1973

Travis AFB California

The longest held prisoner of war knelt on the tarmac and kissed the ground. He was on American soil. He was home. We all were home, some of us after only a year, some of us after nearly ten years. He had been a major when he was shot down over the demilitarized zone nine years earlier; now, he was a colonel. There were promotions for putting in time at the Hanoi Hilton.

Now, he asked everyone to sing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”  We all sang along with him, even those of us still on board the gray-and-white C-141 StarLifter that had brought us home, and even those who had come to welcome us home. Most of us had tears in our eyes. I was glad that no one could see me grab a corner of the pillow case on the litter, where I lay. Of course, they would have understood. They were drying tears, too.

It finally was sinking in that I really was home. This was not a cruel trick by the North Vietnamese (the Vs, we had called them), soon to be exposed for what it was under a barrage of gunfire as they shot us dead in our tracks.

"Better get up," a voice said.

I looked up to see Aaron Rosenthal. Before—long before—he had been my instructor pilot; now, he was my escort officer. He had met me when I had boarded the aircraft in Hanoi, and he would remain with me until I was at my destination Stateside.

"It's time?" I asked him.

 

"Almost. They just called Andy Nowell's name."

 

Andy Nowell was the fifty-first pilot among the returnees in this sortie of returnees; I was the fifty-fourth. We were being presented in order of capture. A lot of the men with whom I had been incarcerated were captured in 1965, it seemed. I was captured in September of 1968; therefore, I was near the end of the roll call aboard our plane.

Rosenthal offered me his hand and helped me to pull myself into a sitting position.

 

"We're at Travis?" I asked him.

 

"Yes. This is Travis."

 

I started to ask him if it was for real, but I decided not to. After all, our stop at Clark AB in the Philippines had been for real. So had our refueling stop at Hickam AFB in Hawai`i. The guys at Clark had fed us steaks and scoops of every flavor of ice cream they could find to give us. That had been real enough. This was real, too.

"I know you told me," I said, "but I can't remember."

 

"What can’t you remember?"

 

"Why did they paint our plane? The gray-and-white looks nice, but it looked just fine in its aluminum skin."

 

"Wear to the skin. Pitting and peeling. The paint helps to protect it," Rosenthal repeated patiently.

 

I nodded. Our plane, yes. Once upon a time—seemingly in another lifetime—I had flown the C-141 StarLifter. Rosenthal had taught me her finer points after I had finished my transition training. The C-141 had been fresh off the assembly line in those days, mid-1965. She had made her maiden flight a year-and-a-half earlier, on 17 December 1963, the thirtieth anniversary of the maiden flight of the DC-1, prototype and precursor of the legendary DC-3/C-47. Now, she had brought me home from hell. She still was my plane. She still is.

"Robertson?" came a call from the doorway.

 

"Now?"

 

"Soon. They just called Anderman," replied the Loadmaster. I was unable to remember his name. It still escapes me.

 

As I arose, Rosenthal ran a comb through my hair, straightened my tie, and helped me into my coat. Yes, we were debarking in full uniform.

 

"You want to look sharp for your family," he reminded me.

 

"They're here? I thought I wasn't going to see them until we got to Keesler."

 

"I suppose they couldn't wait to see you!" Rosenthal exclaimed happily.

 

"Nor can I, but how do I act around a child?”

 

I had not had a son when I had left home to fly that last sortie. We had thought Courtney might be pregnant, but she had not had her appointment with the doctor, yet. All my random thoughts were pouring forth. I could not sort and sift them all in order to present myself as a mature adult. It seems odd now, but it does show the state I was in.

"Why don't you let him take the lead?" Aaron suggested.

 

I nodded, took the pair of crutches that the doctors at Clark had issued to me to give me more stability while walking, and made my way on rubbery legs toward the aft portside door through which I would debark. No, I had not injured my legs, although the beatings I had received had done my knees and shoulders no favors. Primarily, I was weak. I had weighed in at Clark Air Base at 97 pounds. There, I had been carried off the plane on a litter. Now, with several good meals inside of me, I was able to get about slowly under my own Adrenalin-powered steam.

 

Rosenthal followed closely behind and, at the door, laid a reassuring hand upon my shoulder. As the reception committee called Dick Prindible's name, he stepped outside.

 

"Relax," Rosenthal told me. "Enjoy it. You're home."

 

I nodded. I had decided to check out Travis and that, if it were real, then I would believe it. I knew Travis. I had flown into and out of it more times than I could remember. No one could fake Travis on me.

 

As Prindible made his way down the receiving line, saluting to the top brass, who had turned out to welcome us, I heard my name being called: Captain Charles Theron Robertson, Jr.

 

It was my turn. With Rosenthal's help, I stepped over the lower edge of the door and onto the top platform of the steps that would carry me down to the tarmac. After being in the dim light of the aircraft, the bright, California sunshine momentarily blinded me. I paused a moment to become accustomed to it, then started down the steps. Rosenthal stayed close by, just in case I needed his help. I did need his help on the steps. On the ground, however, I regained my balance and made my way down the receiving line, receiving warm greetings and salutes along the way.

 

As I saluted the final officer, I heard footsteps running across the tarmac. I dared not break form to look around. Still, a sense of fear arose within me. Was it friend or foe? Were the Vs rushing in to recapture me? But, no. I did not hear a group of feet, only a single pair, and they sounded like the footsteps of a young child.

 

When my salute was complete, I looked around. Sure enough, I found a young boy standing beside me. He was dressed to the nines in white shirt, navy knee pants, tartan plaid suspenders, red knee socks, and black shoes. His right hand was extended to his forehead in a salute to the officers. Each saluted him. Then, he turned toward me and looked up, his face breaking into a huge grin. He raised his hand again and saluted me. I saluted him in return.

 

"Dad-dee!" he shouted.

 

My own response was to gape at him, overcome by the sight of this child, who had called me Daddy. Yes, Daddy. He was my son! He had to be. I mean, he looked just like me!

 

Our salutes broken, he charged against my legs. Using the crutches for support, I knelt onto the ground and gazed upon him as I tried to comprehend that he was real, that all that was happening around me was real. I was home, and I had a son! A son!

 

"You're home! You've come home, Daddy!"

 

He threw his arms around my neck and planted a sloppy kiss on my face.

 

I gently stroked his soft hair and studied his beautiful, innocent face.

 

"You're my son," I heard myself whispering softly.

 

He nodded up and down vigorously as if to tell me that I was getting the general idea. I felt a gentle hand come to rest upon my shoulder and heard my wife's soft voice.

 

"Charlie, this is your daddy. Theron, this is your son, Charles Theron Robertson, III."

 

"He's so beautiful," I whispered as my gaze slowly traveled up to see my wife.

 

Again, relying on the crutches, I tried to lift myself to my feet. Actually, I wobbled and nearly fell. Courtney steadied me and helped me to stand up. She beamed upon me and allowed me to draw her into my arms and kiss her for a nice, long time.

 

"Daddy!" Charlie exclaimed. "We're in public, you know!"

 

Clearly, my son intended to see that a certain degree of decorum was maintained. I had to grin.

 

"Yes, son," I allowed. My eyes were upon my wife. Not having the first idea what to say to her, I did the only thing I could think to do: I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and continued to gaze upon her. And, as I did, words slowly began to come to me.

 

"You waited for me?"

 

She nodded. "Of course."

 

"Of course? As I recall, I could be totally dense sometimes."

 

She smiled. "Yes, but I like you that way."

 

"You do?"

 

She grinned and nodded.

 

This was too good to be true!

 

"Do you suppose we could get that on tape?" I asked.

 

She replied by playfully swatting at me. "No, Theron. I don't."

 

"Oh," I replied flatly. "Well, how about in writing?"

 

"You have it in writing."

 

"I do?"

 

"Yes. It's called a marriage license."

 

"Oh! That's what that's for, huh?"

 

"That's what that's for."

 

I nodded and glanced down at our son to find him watching us intently with nothing short of complete bewilderment on his face. Winking at him, I ruffled his hair, then bent to pick him up.

 

“Easy, now,” Courtney said as, yet again, I wobbled.

 

“I’m picking up my son!” I declared defiantly. I suppose I said it as much to give my body incentive as in reply to Courtney. When Charlie was settled within my arms, I told him, "Your mother and I carry on sometimes."

 

"That's what that is?"

 

"That's what that is."

 

"Oh, okay! If you say so!"

 

Something told me that my son was quite a young man.

 

"I hope you have a little affection left for the rest of us," I heard a very familiar voice declare.

 

Turning, I looked down to see my mother standing closely by my side. Handing Charlie to Courtney, I bent over her petite frame and gave her a secure hug.

 

"Mom," I said softly. "Are you okay?"

 

She beamed up at me. "Yes, Dear. I'm quite well."

 

She did not look well to me. Although she always had taken care of herself, she now appeared too thin. She still wore her hair in the bouffant style she had adopted in the early sixties, although it was clear that its dark color now required a bit of assistance. Some grey was starting to show at the roots. Yes, it would have to. Mom was in her mid-fifties, now. Too, there was a sadness in her eyes that not even the excitement of the moment could erase.

 

The past four-plus years had been hard on Mom. The Air Force had told her that her son had been killed; his body had not been recovered from that foreign soil. Now, as she stood with her arm around my waist, her fist gripped the fabric of my coat. She could not let go, nor could she take her tear-filled eyes off of me. I nodded to her to let her know that I understood and bent to place a gentle kiss upon her forehead.

 

With Mom were Courtney's parents, Clara and Branton duPerier. I greeted them, sharing a warm hug with Clara and a hearty handshake and firm pat on the back with Branton. Branton passed me his sunglasses. I suppose he felt a need to do something for me. I accepted them and put them on.

 

Absent was my own father, as painfully and noticeably as when I had looked out over the audience during school plays, hoping against hope to see him but never realizing my dream. What did I hope? That Dad would have come back in my absence to be reunited with my mother? Yes, I think a small part of me did.

 

"Is something wrong, Dear?" Mom asked.

 

"No, Mom. Everything's fine."

 

"Who are you looking for?"

 

I shook my head but said nothing. What was there to say, after all? Dad never would be there. He could not be there. He had not come home from his war.

- - - - -

The Mystery Train

A sustained whistle pierced the darkness of night. A deep rumble shook the ground. Rising from my seat on the floor, I looked outside, into the pitch blackness of night. Overhead, dark clouds broke the moonlight.

 

“That’s old Engine 49,” my grandfather explained. “It derailed about a mile from here. Worst wreck they ever had on the old Winchester line. More than a hundred people died that night. Not just men from the coal mines, but women and children, too. You could hear their wails as the coal from the heating stoves caught the old wooden coaches afire. Some folks say their souls still linger here like maybe they can’t make the move to the light. Others say it’s howling wind blowing through the rocky pass up where Judson Road makes a bend.”

 

Dean and Fred and Mac and I decided we’d go and check it out. We’d follow the old railroad track until we reached the site where, even today, sections of track stand as twisted and distorted as a roller coaster. Just before midnight, we would set out with our backpacks and flashlights.

 

Mac’s grandmother’s grandfather clock had just chimed the midnight hour when we climbed from Mac’s bedroom window. We made our way north, up the lane. A quarter-mile along, we picked up the old railroad tracks by Norton’s gate and set a westward course. 

 

We had taken only a dozen steps when we heard the mournful wails. It was more than Dean could bear. He drew back and seemed as though he were ready to turn and run. Fred grabbed him and pulled him back.

“What’s that blood-curdling sound?” Dean asked in horror.

 

“Nothing. Just settle down,” Mac replied. “Old Man Wiggins is off his brew. He hasn’t been able to make his ale since the sheriff shut him down.”

 

“Sounded more like ghosts,” Fred seemed to think.

 

“You settle down, too. Ain’t no such thing, ghosts,” Mac declared.

 

“Wanna bet? I seen ‘em,” Dean claimed as we cleared a fence post that had fallen across the track.

 

“Cut it out, guys. We’ll go on,” I decreed. Even so, as I stepped out, I felt as though I weighed a ton. A part of me wanted to run. A better part wanted to know what was causing the strange noises we had heard. I forged ahead through the darkness, leaving my friends to follow.

 

I had gone no more than a quarter-mile when I heard another sound, deep and rumbling. No, it wasn’t the sound of a locomotive. It was more like a moan made by a creature, maybe even a human.

 

“I’m going home,” Dean exclaimed. “You can’t drag me to that train.”

 

“You can’t go,” I told him. “We’re in this together. We’re going on.”

 

On we went into the night. Just ahead, we rounded the bend that paralleled Judson Road.

There, before us, shone a light. As we drew near, the moon came from behind the clouds to reveal an old railroad car.

 

Its windows were lit an eerie green, the color of swamp gas, Fred said. Inside, ghostly figures milled about. Drums boomed, and cymbals crashed. Horns like sirens shrieked and wailed. Bodies bent and turned and loomed. Skeletons seemed to appear in the windows of the train. I blinked hard. Had I really seen skeletons? I couldn’t be sure.

 

Just then, Dean began to chant words from an olde world prayer:

 

From ghouls and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us.*

 

Instantly, all before us vaporized. Band and dancers, bones and songs. The green mist in the windows liquefied, running down, like water on glass. The darkened clouds went away, and the moonlight shone as bright as day, showing us what truly lay before us. It was no more than a decaying railroad car, which stood forlorn and alone in tall grass.

 

“This can’t be real!” I heard myself exclaim. “Where are the ruins from the crash? Bodies died here. The burning cars scorched the rocks. This car looks like it was just driven here and left.”

 

“I ain’t even gonna try and explain what’s gone on,” Mac replied. Turning, he said, I’m going home. This is too weird for me.”

 

“I’m right behind you, Mac,” Fred agreed. “Lead the way. You come, too, Dean.”

 

From the far end of the car, two green eyes looked on with glee. “Silly boys. They’re all the same.”

 

Me, I crouched down in the grass, my eyes peeled upon the car, and waited to see if the ghosts would return or whether there ever had been any ghosts. Minute after minute passed without any sign of activity. All I saw was an abandoned railway car that was losing its battle with the ravages of nature. I was getting cold, for the wind that was blowing the clouds over the moon was rustling the grass where I lay.

 

I nearly had decided to give up and go home when I heard footsteps. The steps were too heavy to belong to one of my friends. Besides, I had heard them talking all the way up to the road leading home. No. This was an adult footstep, a foot in a heavy boot, not the foot of a bony skeleton. As I looked around, I saw Old Man Wiggins standing over me in his hunting coat and hat, with his rifle tucked under his arm.

 

“You might as well give up and go home, son. They don’t come out to play if we’re around.”

 

“Then, you’ve seen them, the green stuff and the skeletons?”

 

“Yep!”

 

“You’ve heard the band and seen the dancers?”

 

“Yep! Every time the ides fall on a Saturday, my whole life long.”

 

“Then, they’re real?”

 

“As real as you and me, son,” Wiggins insisted.

 

 

Inspired by a photograph taken by Dave Ryan

* Traditional Scottish Prayer

- - - - -

Life in the Village

This story began as a writing challenge. We were given 140 words not usually seen in today’s literature and asked to write a short story that used all of them. With a dictionary in one hand, I began to write. Much to my surprise, this was the result. I like it. See what you think.

Life in The Village is a vignette of life, a casual observer watching the goings on along a block of MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, New York. It might have been set in the days of the Great Depression, or it might be set today. We won’t know until the very end.

The prodigious and selcouth writer bent over his desk and hammered away on the keyboard of his typewriter. Yes, typewriter. He had no use for such profound accommodations as computers and cell phones and even was known to eschew automatic transmissions in cars and to ridicule those who employed them. His name among the residents of MacDougal Street was Love, for he knew nothing of it. His agnomen among the more progressive writers he knew was Stone Age Man.

He was a hard man, a man to sling mud and food, as well as words on a page, yet a man who imagined himself to be academically, altruistically, allegorically, philosophically, and metaphorically metaphysical in his approach to the written word. Never did it occur to him that his banal verbiage might be less invigorating to others than it was to him. Never did he admit that he might ponder the effects of his words on those who read them.

He was nondenominational; in fact, he was quite openly atheistic in his approach to life. Peace, he achieved in his spirit after he had written soaring, raging tales of fantasy, paradox, and even rhetoric. Never did he admit that he felt any gratitude for his talent for writing. Intuitively, he never considered that he might have served in his nation’s military; why, such was no more than yesterday’s patriotic gesture and surely nothing to be required of him! He never honored days of remembrance.

Zenith was a street urchin, temperate while a rebel and something of a gypsy in dress and darkness of skin. Her nerve existed within and allowed her to make her point with her facial expressions: heartbroken tears, one moment; verve, the next; and outright despair after that. And, yet, there was a sense of love beneath it all, as if she felt free to be herself as she was, owing nothing to anyone. At the same time, she seemed mystical as she played an ivory-colored xylophone, tapping out the blues and soul music. In every way, she was an innocuous creature, symbolizing innocence as much as victimization.

Joe, who sold newspapers on the corner said that people, even gypsies wearing imitation jewels, like their counterparts in long-ago, far-away backwoods places, surely must be from Uranus or some other far-flung planet. Each night, he closed his newsstand up tight and locked the roll-down grate over the window as though he feared Zenith would break in and steal last week’s edition of the Sunday Times. Such fear was a part of urban life and reverberated through the trees that lined and shadowed the sidewalk before the shop. As the grate slammed against the pavement, Zenith looked up from the discarded cupcakes she had rescued from behind the mini-mart and, with sadness in her eyes and questions in her mind, looked sadly after his departing figure.

The writer watched the goings on down below his cold-water flat, at least as well as he could over the awning, which cantilevered out, over the sidewalk, directly beneath him. Immediately below was an art school established by two Irish brothers, whose dedication precluded dreaming as they strove to have their works displayed in the Metropolitan Gallery. Both already had won the prestigious St. Gaudan’s Medal in Fine Art. Love snorted indignantly as he watched the younger brother roll in the awning as he prepared to go home. Home was across the East River, in Brooklyn. That one might make it big one day, but not as an artist; he was too emotional. As an actor, perhaps? Yes, an actor. He needed to pack up his canvasses and move up to Broadway. That was where he belonged.

Love’s gaze turned away from the artist and to the beautician, who emerged from the salon down the street. Her hair was yellow with peroxide, and she belched from flatulence. She was married to Joe at the newsstand. How the man could stand to be married to the woman was beyond Love’s comprehension. It was a common misconception that they rode to work together on the subway. In reality, Joe always found a reason to go in early and stay late. Love knew that for a fact, for he had heard Joe say that marriage to Fiona was hazardous to his health. He likened her to a doppelganger of his departed, thoroughly evil mother.

For the preservation of his sanity, if not his life, Joe was seeing Lettie on the side, as evidenced by the afterglow that colored his face each Wednesday night, when he emerged from her basement flat. A few people on MacDougal Street waited for the day (or night) when Joe and Fiona collided as each vied for the affection that was thwarted by the state of their marriage. Everyone agreed on one thing: Joe felt no remorse for his dalliances.

“Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” a voice cried out in adamant tones. The voice, which droned superfluously, belonged to old No-Name, whom some claimed was demented. He came out each and every day to proclaim that the end of the world was at hand and implore all who heard him to repent of their sins. Love had seen No-Name grant absolution to more than one passer-by.

“Here, No-Name. Take this sandwich and shut up,” a voice rang out.

Love leaned farther out his window in time to see the deli owner giving no-name one of the sandwiches that had not sold during the noon rush. He knew that the deli owner also bequeathed the esculents to Zenith. Why, the waif would dry up and blow away if it weren’t for the deli owner, whose name might as well have been No-Name. In actual fact, his name was so long, convoluted, and foreign that no one could remember, let alone pronounce, it.

In the free clinic, Doc Myers had found the Germaine twins to be asymptomatic and was inoculating them against the usual childhood illnesses. Tommy Germaine played with a roadtrain of tandem gondolas. Each of the wooden cars was painted a bright and cheerful color; the set had belonged to his father. His twin, Timmy, was playing with a set of magicians hoops, which he alternately interlocked and separated. Not knowing what they were called, he referred to them alternately as “the whatchamacallit” and “the thingamajig.” The names worked as well as the thingamajigs worked to distract Timmy as Doc slipped the needle into his arm. Soon, the twins and their mother had departed from the clinic. With the rambunctious boys out of sight, Doc gave a weary sigh and walked over to wash his hands before he saw his next patient. If he had realized how trying children could be, he’d have specialized in dermatology, instead of family medicine. But that was warped, end-of-the-day thinking. Down deep, Doc knew he loved the work he was doing.

The following morning, on his way to the free clinic, Doc stopped by the art school. He had passed every morning since the Irish brothers had opened for business, and he had admired the paintings and sketches he saw on display through the window. Now, he saw one of the brothers critiquing a work for a student. The painting depicted a buttercup, but it was not a very good one.

“While most are yellow or white, a few species are orange or even red,” the student explained to the instructor.”

“Good! That gives you more options. But flower petals are whorled,” the instructor explained. “One is laid upon the next, upon the next, until it all comes full circle. Like this.” Taking a sketch pad, he showed the student how to draw a blossom.”

Doc did not linger, lest he embarrass the student. Instead, he began studying the works that hung on the walls. An old Mediterranean fishing boat was bright aqua, while the building behind it was the color of sand, its roof the color of terra cotta. Together, the boat and the building reflected the colors of the sea and shore, almost as if allegorically. The parts or pieces of the picture – the boat, the building, the shadows that were cast across them – were jigsawed together to form an incredible whole. The profundity of the effect was strong; it captured the doctor’s eye and allowed him to look at no other painting. Never before had the doctor felt such an aesthetic pull toward such a simple work of art. Truly, it had been a labor of love for the artist. Truly, as well, this was an artist who would go far in his chosen field.

A glance at his watch told Doc that he would have to pull himself away from this wonderland and continue on his way to the clinic. The call of his first patients’ arrival was beckoning. Offering a simple “thank you” to the artist, Doc took his leave. He had walked no more than a few steps when he heard cruel laughter emanating from above. Looking up, he saw the writer leaning from his apartment window.

“Surely, you didn’t find anything worth looking at in that so-called art school!” Love was fairly screaming.

“Quite the contrary.  In fact, I imagine that, before the day is over, I shall succumb and purchase that delightful fishing boat.”

Love looked quizzically at the doctor but said nothing. Instead, as Doc continued on his way, Love sat back, folded his arms across his chest, and lowered himself into his vat of misery. A lullaby once hummed to him by his mother slid quietly from his lips. It was an obscure melody; chances were he did not remember where he first had heard it. In his despondency, he did not notice the ambulance that sped past with its lights flashing and siren wailing.

Zenith was awakened by the noise and looked up from her bed – old blankets atop cardboard – and watched as two women ran past. How heavenly their brand-new jogging suits and running shoes appeared. For a brief moment, Zenith imagined that, one day, she would own fine clothes like the women wore who were moving into the neighborhood. MacDougal Street was changing. The Yuppies were finding it and taking it for themselves. Soon, someone from the city would come and insist that Zenith pack up and move on. She would. What choice would she have? That would be a sad day. For all its problems – the heat and the cold, the rain and the snow – her little place on MacDougal Street possessed a certain ambience, one she did not want to lose. Sitting up, Zenith took a deck of cards and began dealing a hand of Solitaire; it was the first of many hands she would deal that day. As she played, she read a story in one of the many old newspapers providing insulation in her home. Officials in Florida were searching the Okefenokee Swamp for a missing man.

Meanwhile, Joe was grabbing up two bundles of magazines, which a distributor had just dropped off. He paused for a moment to study the cover of one and thought to himself how much Lettie would enjoy wearing a sweater like the one the model was wearing. Ah, Lettie! She was as tenacious as a bulldog, yet as gentle as a lamb; from head to toe, a figment of his whimsical, youthful imagination about what his wife would be like. Except that she wasn’t his wife. Joe didn’t mind that; she was still his and would be for a nice, long time – unless Fiona came after him with an axe or a whip. It was too easy to imagine Fiona with an axe or a whip. That worried Joe.

In the early afternoon, the city building inspector emerged from the stairwell in an old tenement, spouting off issues so rapidly that the contractor at his side barely could keep up with him as he jotted down the offenses in order to remedy them.

“The wiring is non-compliant for size and load. The plumbing isn’t properly vented. The structure in the newer addition is rudimentary, at best. The bathroom doesn’t even have functionality; you might as well call it a closet with pipes.”

“That’s fine,” the contractor insisted. “It will all be stripped out and done properly.”

“It had better be. By the way, have you heard whether the neighborhood association is sending a delegation to the city council meeting this afternoon?”

“That’s the rumor,” the contractor replied as he lit his Meerschaum pipe. “Word is it will be a convergence of very angry people, who want these old buildings to look and function like new ones and these homeless people carted out of here.”

“Yeah. We see this every time the affluent take over one of these old neighborhoods,” the inspector grumbled. “Me, on my paltry salary, I’m starting to wonder where the homeless are supposed to live. The slum lords used to put up with them, but the city put them out of business on account of the rats and roaches. Tore down those buildings. Now, the yuppies are driving them out of the streets. I tell you, this liberation of the masses is going to be the downfall of this city!”

Later that afternoon, Mick Chandler walked into Casey’s Bar and called out happy salutations to the gathering crowd.

“Hey, Case! A round for house!”

“You win the lottery or something?”

“Or something. I got promoted!”

“Careful, Mick. There’s nothing so pernicious as celebrating a raise or a promotion before the first paycheck’s in hand.” The advice came from Charlie, who sat on the last stool at the end of the bar, as he always did.

“Bosses are real piranhas where promotions are concerned,” John affirmed from his seat across the room.

“Wormy… eely… not to be trusted,” Alex agreed. “Thanks, Mick, but hold onto your money. We’ll buy our own until you get that first paycheck.”

“Gee! You guys are real friends,” Mick replied as he studied his long-time friends with a lucidity he had not possessed before.

“I got two rules I always live by, Mick,” John said in reply. “First, leave your personal business unspoken. Ain’t nobody’s business, anyway. Second, save for every contingency, for the rainy day, if you get my drift. It don’t pay to spend your money on celebrating. Sooner or later, you’ll wish that money was back in your pocket.”

“Aye-aye!”

“You got that right, John!”

In that instant, Casey dropped a glass, piercing the thoughtful moment. Broken shards went flying in all directions. Cheers arose from those gathered.

“Aw, hell! I spend more on glasses than I do on the booze,” the bartender spat as he reached for broom and dustpan.

Such was life in The Village.

 

Copyright (c) 2020-2021, Virginia Tolles

Banner photograph by Jill Wellington / Pixabay