Monday, August 26, 2013

WHAT IS LOVE... by Michael Joseph

We left the perch that overlooked the amazing vista. More like we were chased off by the turkey vultures with their eight-foot wing span and clawed feet. In anger and silence my wife walking marriage distance from me.

You see, there are distances I measure by relationships. First date distance is an uncomfortable closeness, unsure of each other. Six month relationship where the couple locks arms around their backs, leaving no room for separation. A year, where you hold hands together. And marriage distance where couples walk seeing each other, but plenty of space between them. So we were in marriage distance plus room for our anger. Her anger at me and my anger that she is angry at me.

We continued to hike through the trees knowing that conversation was not an option. Although looking back, her Brooklyn strut was adorable. My pouting did not allow me to enjoy this, because I was committed to being more upset than she.

We hiked. When you hike there are hills. If hills are what made her mad, well I’ll show her and be more mad.

Breaking our bond of silent aggressive warfare was a rustling of leaves and sticks in the not so distant trees. The sound was of a beast running. We stopped. My son was on my back in a carrying pack. We stopped and the sound got louder and faster, faster and louder and louder. Then we saw it. One of God’s creatures. A majestic stag. It was old and looked wise with large horns, six or more points on each side. A rack that took a lifetime to grow.

When he reached five to ten feet from us, he stopped. He stared. It was a curious stare. His look was a mirror of our puzzlement and curiosity. The stare lasted twenty or so seconds, but a long twenty. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi, six Mississippi, seven Mississippi, eight Mississippi. You get the idea.

I reached for my camera that was on my belt in a case closed by a strip of velcro. The sound of the velcro echoed in the woods. He vanished, vanished like water down the drain. Returning to his mystical existence.

My wife broke our silence with a question, “Who is he running from? What was chasing him?”

I dismissed her question with a roll of my eyes, saying to her with my face, an attitude of that’s as stupid as asking to go on a hike that has no hills, but she was right. We both knew animals don’t run unless they are being chased or chasing something. But before fear and strategy to protect my family came in, I celebrated. Celebrated  my little victory. She broke our silence first. I could stay mad longer, thus maybe she would apologize for ruining our Sabbath hike.

Those were her last words for awhile.

My heart was pumping and my head on a swivel because she was right. There could be danger beyond the trees. Looking and on the alert for the largest beast that lives in these woods. A black bear.

After two miles of trekking, we came across a lean-to. We stop to share some water and have our last smoke together. Posted on the walls and throughout the camp grounds were signs warning of bears in the area. We both knew this, but did not acknowledge it. I said, “Ok, let’s go.” Hoping she would not process the dozen or so signs.

My son, who was now walking, stopped at every watering hole. There were many. Fascinated by the tadpoles and frogs, his enthusiasm and curiosity was annoying and slowing our pace to a crank.

Our silence, marriage distance, utter despair for each other had grown to where we’re not even looking at each other now.

I placed my kid in the pack and started to forward march back towards our house. There was only about ten minutes of woods left before we would be back at the end of our block. That is when she saw it and said, “Is that a bear?”

Somehow she used her grandfather’s shaman powers and quickly placed herself behind me, using me as a human shield. Then I saw it. Softly I said, “Yes, it’s a bear.”

It was about a 100 feet from us, moving left to right across the trail, which was turning to the left. I quickly calculated if I needed to, could I fight it. It wasn’t big really. And growing up I got into some fights, enough of them to know I didn’t like to fight. It really hurts to get punched in your face or punch someone. Your hand stings for days. But I knew I had a shot.

The bear continued on its path and went across the trail into the woods. About five seconds later -- one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi -- there she was. Mama Bear. She looked 500lbs of beast.

I started clapping and shouting, because that is what the book says when you see a bear. Make noise. My three-year old son was having a blast, clapping with me, yelling and laughing away. The bear turned her head and looked right down the trail at me. She looked pissed. I picked up a nearby stick and tried to make myself look bigger and more threatening. My legs were shaking.

Then she took off on the trail, directly towards us. Her hind legs pushing and her forward legs reaching, stretching, pulling, the middle of her body acting as some sort of leverage, gear. The front of her body twisted one way, while the back of her body twisted the other. With each thrust and turn she increased velocity until when she was just ten-fifteen feet in front of me, my wife and child, she stopped.

She stopped short and kicked up the loose dirt and rocks, making a cloud of dirt. Then she disappeared into the trees, into the mystical world of existence.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

ANSWER by Cheryl Corson

On Christmas Eve, the Capitol Hill pot luck group I’ve been part of for twelve years had Secret Santa after dinner. The wrapped gifts were as usual, gender neutral, food-related, and cost no more than twenty dollars. We all picked numbers from a basket and did the gifts with dessert.

This year, you could take someone else’s opened gift from them instead of opening a wrapped one. But a popular gift could only be stolen three times. I think the limit came about after a pair of triple bladed herb scissors kept getting stolen the year before.

This year, Laurie Siegel and I swapped the gifts we got. Mine was a copy of a political humor book that was recycled from the previous year’s Secret Santa. I recognized it as being the one my husband had contributed at the time. Laurie had a gift bag from South Carolina that included a stainless steel wine opener, a set of round cork coasters with black line drawings of old fashioned bicycles on them, and a jar of pineapple and hot pepper jelly made in South Carolina. Laurie said her husband Alan would like the book, and I thought my husband would like the corkscrew. So we traded and no one stole our stuff during the rest of the game.

I do like the corkscrew and the jelly is still half-full in the fridge. The coasters might be okay for the Maine house. But answer this: how can the jelly still be in the refrigerator but Laurie is dead? How can you not outlive your edible Secret Santa gift?

Surely there’s some mistake, like that jelly is ten years, not seven months old, or Death will wait politely, sitting with legs crossed in the hallway, hat in hand, maybe flipping through a back issue of People Magazine while his intended visitor goes about finishing all that is left undone.

All the yarn in the cabinet that has not already been eaten by moths is woven into scarves and rugs and knitted into sweaters. All the handwritten notebook pages are digitized and patched into one or more complete memoirs. The tear in the green flannel sheet is neatly stitched back together. Old family photographs are labeled. 

The brother and sister finally talk about what it was like growing up with that mother and that father, and how it came to be that their paths diverged while still bearing the indelible thumbprint of their street address and apartment number. The husband and wife let go of their hurt feelings and weep for each other’s early and great pain. Then kiss. 

Death starts tapping his foot on the hallway floor.

The wife sends out one last Facebook post to 250 people near and far: I loved being in the sixth grade with you; in high school with you; in bed with you; in business with you. I loved the sound of your voice. I loved laughing until our stomachs hurt.

Death stands, impatient, “Leave the fucking jelly, it’s time to go,” he says.