Friday, May 22, 2009

You're Married, Charlie Brown!

Charlie Brown clutched his briefcase, smiling at Snoopy. "Hey, old pal. How was your day?"

A loud shriek came from inside. Charlie Brown's eyes widened with surprise. Dispirited, Charlie Brown mumbled, "I guess I'd better check on her." Snoopy offered a look of sympathy.

Charlie Brown walked in and glanced around the living room. "Hello?"

With a quiet fury burning in her eyes, Lucy emerged from the kitchen. "About time you got home, Charlie Brown. Where have you been?"

Charlie Brown answered sheepishly, "I came straight from work."

"Did you forget where we live, Charlie Brown? Boy, I bet you'd forget your brain if it wasn't trapped in your head." Lucy tried to be pleasant. "How was work?"

Charlie Brown frowned. "The boss picked on me again."

Lucy shook her head. "It's no wonder with you always wearing that stupid shirt. Sometimes I think you don't love me at all."


"You should take pride in your appearance and stand up for yourself. That's the reason you never get a raise and are always stuck with the worst jobs. We need money, Charlie Brown. I want to buy things. You're such a blockhead."

"Lucy, why are you acting like this?"

"I'm pregnant, Charlie Brown." Then, after a long silence, "It's Pig-Pen's. Maybe Franklin's."

"Good grief."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Almost Christmas

Hello, skinny moon.

I'm supposed to be in bed.

It's almost Christmas in two weeks, I think. Maybe three weeks. I don't remember. I'll ask mommy in the morning.

Tomorrow we're going to the store to meet Jenny and Jenny's mom. Mommy has to buy Christmas presents. Daddy said people gave presents to baby Jesus and we give presents to show how much we like Jesus when he was a baby.

Mommy and Daddy are in the kitchen being loud. They're laughing about something. I don't know what they're laughing about.

Trees are scary when they don't have leaves, but I like them because they look like fingers.

My baby brother is looking at me. He's a cutie pie. That's what mom always says. She always says that. He's in a crib so he can't fall out. Daddy put it together with tools. Sometimes he cries and I tell him, "Don't cry. It's okay." That's what you're supposed to do with babies.

I'm going to stay at grandma's for Christmas. We're making cookies! She doesn't know how to play robots and aliens, though, but I can show her. It's probably the funnest game. You roll the dice and move the robot and the alien the same number that you roll until they finish the race and then you see who comes in second.

Mommy made me sit in the time out chair today because Cody put my dress up clothes on and I told him he couldn't be a fairy because he was a boy. He's a baby, so he doesn't know that.

Tonight, Daddy read us the story about Bobby the Badger building a house and how the mice laughed at him. But when it was cold, he let the mice eat cake and stay warm. He made them little beds and they didn't laugh at him because he made the baby mouse stop being sick.

I'm hungry, but I brushed my teeth already. Daddy likes jelly on his biscuits. I like cheese! It's my recipe I made up. Do you like cheese on biscuits?

I'm sleepy. Goodnight, Cody. I love you.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Doubting You, Doubting Me.

They walked along the dirt path under the stars. Shelly could feel Adam's eyes searching her face in the darkness. She could make out his shrug against the blue-black sky.

"I don't know why you ask me. I like every picture you do."

She blew the cold air out, watching it mist across the stars overhead. "Maybe it's what I need to hear."

"But you already know I like it."

She didn't answer. He knew it didn't matter if she already knew. She could feel what was coming and it annoyed her. He was going to make this about him.

"Come here." They stopped walking as he put his arm around her shoulder, drawing her close. She pushed her hands into the front pocket of his sweatshirt. He always found a million tiny ways to remind her of how wonderful he was.

Adam kissed the top of her head. Shelly smiled, laying her head against his shoulder. He smelled like a wood fire and rosemary. He drew in a deep breath. She looked up at his face and saw he was crying.

"What's wrong?"

He shook his head. "Nothing."

"Tell me." She was mad again. She always felt like he was against her when he shut her out, like they weren't really part of something together.

"I don't know. I just never get anything right with you."

"What are you talking about?"

Adam took her hand. Their eyes had adjusted to the dim light of the night sky. "Can we walk?"

"If you tell me what's wrong."

Adam breathed in and they started again, up the trail. "You always doubt little things. I mean, you wonder if I like what you cook or what you paint or whatever, but I get worried about stuff that makes things really hard for both of us."

He was going to make this about him.

Shelly could feel her stomach turn. She could almost fill in the words. He was going to tell her he'd done something bad or that he wanted to break up. Her voice was weak in the cold air. "Like what?"

Adam stared at the ground as they kept walking. The grass was a tangle of gray, black, and blue beneath his feet. "I just fuck things up. I'm not smart or successful. I mean, I just don't know how to be one of those guys." He wiped his nose off on the sleeve of his free hand. "I just always feel like you're about to get tired and go find somebody else, you know?"

Shelly was quiet. She couldn't argue against his characterization of the situation, as self-defeating and pathetic as it was. She could still smell the wood fire smoke on him. She pulled at his arm and stopped him again. "I don't love you for all the things you're not. I love you for the things you are." She could feel everything inside him as though it was carried through their touch.

He looked at her with empty eyes. He didn't believe her.

She put her hand behind his head, pulling him down into a kiss. It was her own way of reminding him of how wonderful she was and erasing the hurt. She looked in his eyes again, starting to cry a little herself.

"Hey. Come back to me."

Adam breathed out and tried to smile as a whisper trailed off his lips, "Sorry."

Her voice was soft. "It's okay."

His eyes were tired as he let go of her hand. "It's cold. Do you want to go back?"

Shelly put her arms around him, burying her face against his sweatshirt. She needed his comfort again. She wanted to hold him until he knew how much she loved him. He wrapped his arms around her as she kissed him on the side of the mouth. "Not yet."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

President Jack Bauer and The McRib: Episode 2

The Secretary of State walked into the Oval Office to find President Bauer doing one-handed push-ups on the presidential seal.

"Excuse me, Mr. President. I can wait outside, but it's actually kind of urgent."

"Two-hundred and fifty." Jack stood up, dripping sweat on the carpet. "No. It's fine. Just punishing myself for drizzling cheese on my broccoli." Jack wiped his face on a dirty shirt and frowned. "How many times do I have to tell you? Call me Jack."

"Yes sir, Mr. Bauer. Jack."

Bauer pulled on his shirt and stared into the face of the Secretary. "What is it? It better not be paperwork. President Bauer doesn't do paperwork."

"We've got a couple situations sir. It seems a warlord in northern Liberia, named Cameron Jabuti, has taken several American students hostage and is demanding the release of seven of his friends awaiting trial for war crimes."

"Cameron Jabuti. Hmm. Sounds like a made up name."

"Yes sir."

"I thought this job was going to be a lot of speeches and kissing babies."


"It's Jack, remember."

"Oh, yes. Right. Jack." The Secretary of State collected himself and continued. "We've mobilized Special Ops forces in the area and prepared a statement. The White House press corp is waiting for you to address the nation."

"Get Air Force One here on the double and have the press move to the south lawn. I'll give them a statement on my way out."

"I'm not sure I understand."

Jack scowled. "I'm going to get those kids back."

"You can't be serious."

"Where's the Vice President?"

The Secretary scowled. "That's the other situation. He was in route to Liberia for a summit when this all started. His assistant has been in contact and the Vice President is refusing to reroute his trip."

Jack smiled. "Son of a bitch is getting a head start."


Five minutes later, Jack hurried down the hallway, escorted by the Secret Service. He pulled his own pistol, checking the rounds before sliding the clip back in place.

"Are you guys following me? Seriously. I've got this. Why don't you go shoot some counterfeiters or something?"

The agents shrugged and watched Bauer walk out of the White House. He was a determined man. In the short time they'd provided protection to him, they had learned that Jack Bauer wasn't someone who took "no" for an answer. The prime minister of Germany had learned that the hard way.

Her collarbone was still healing.

Bauer kept his pistol drawn as he approached the podium on the south lawn. The press kept a safe distance away. He gave a nod to the NBC camera guy, the one who always kept an eye on his LCD display while twittering updates on developing political situations.

The press secretary approached him with a forced smile. "Is the gun really necessary?"

Bauer stared him down. "Better safe than sorry. Who are you?"

Bauer ignored the college boy's stammering as he stepped up to the podium.

"My fellow Americans, as I'm sure you're all aware, some crazy Liberian has taken American students hostage. I have a message for this so-called, Cameron Jabuti." Jack shot an intense glare at the cameras and spit on the ground. "I'm coming after you, you yellow-bellied son of a bitch. No one takes our sons and daughters and gets away with it. I'll be seeing you in the next 24 hours."

And with that, President Bauer marched toward Air Force One. The stewardess smiled as the President boarded. "Welcome aboard, Mr. President."

"I'm traveling light. Get off."

She swallowed and descended the ladder. Jack made his way to the cockpit. "I'll fly."

The pilot shrugged. "Why not?"


Fourteen hours later, sand whipped against the side of Air Force One. Jack zipped up his jacket, filled the pockets with extra rounds, and drank a fifth of whiskey. He adjusted his crotch and frowned. "I should've worn the ones with the cock spikes."

The pilot gave a bewildered look. "What?"

"They help me think through difficult situations." Jack stopped at the door, turning back to the pilot. "If I'm not back in ten hours, have the air force carpet bomb the whole country."

"I don't think I'm authorized to..."

...but Jack was already gone.


Cameron Jabuti was a shrewd man, albeit, bat shit crazy. He wore human teeth on a necklace and occasionally burst out laughing just before pointing his cane toward ground and saying "Good one, Satan."

He turned to Lieutenant Fang, with a gleam in his eyes. "Make the boys put on dresses."


"Not our men. The American boys. I want to see them in dresses."

The lieutenant nodded reluctantly. "As you wish, General Jabuti."

Jabuti grabbed the lieutenant's arm, his eyes moving around in Cookie Monster directions. "Do you smell barbecue sauce?"

The lieutenant shrugged, unsure of the correct answer. "Maybe."

Jabuti nodded and smiled. "Yes. He's here."

Fang walked off, shaking his head. He muttered to himself after he turned the corner. "Fucking insane."


Outside, twelve Army Rangers huddled just behind a ground swell. They looked out at the sand storm blowing gusts against a desolate three story building. Sergeant Smith rolled over and grinned at his men. "Must me the tallest building in the whole country. Who's got a smoke?"

One of the other rangers pointed out towards the building. "Look, sir!"

Smith looked back out at the building. "Holy shit. Is that President Bauer?"

Bauer was staying low, skirting past a rusted out truck, moving fast as he closed in on the building. He crept along the rattling tin siding and was almost to the door when it opened. A young soldier with a scar running down the length of his face stepped out.

The soldier dropped his weapon and his eyes grew wide. "I surrender! I surrender!"

Bauer shot him in both knee caps. He looked down at the soldier and scowled. "That's a chance I just can't take." Bauer ran in through the door into a large room where six other soldiers sat on a busted up couch, passing a joint. "So much for the element of surprise."


Gun shots echoed from inside the building as Sergeant Smith threw up hand signals.

His second in command gave a confused look. "Breaking ball, low and to the inside?"

Smith frowned. "We're moving."

"Yes, sir."


The pothead soldiers groaned and rolled around on the floor, clutching their knees. Bauer threw down his pistol and screamed. "Go ahead, you maniacs. Tie me up. Beat me. I won't tell you anything."

At just that moment, Jabuti and Lieutenant Fang walked into the room.

"What's going on here?" Jabuti's eyes lit up. "Ah! President Bauer. What an unexpected surprise." Jabuti motioned to Lieutenant Fang. "Seize him!"

Fang pushed Bauer to the ground and tied his wrists with twine. Fang kicked him in the ribs and spit on the American president. "Get up, you dog."

Bauer stood on shaky legs and glared at Fang. "You're going to regret that."

Jabuti struck his cane against the floor. "Enough talk. Bring him. We'll put him with the others."

Fang prodded Bauer with his rifle as they walked up the rickety metal stairs leading to the second floor. They came to the doorway of a room, dark behind it's beaded curtain. Inside, eight students huddled in the corner, the girls in jeans and the boys in dresses.

Jabuti laughed. "Say hello to your countrymen."

Bauer grimaced. "Hello ladies. Don't worry. We're going to get out of here."

One of the students whispered to her boyfriend. "Oh my god. Is that President Bauer?"

Jabuti hit his can against the ground. "Tie him to a chair."

Two guards stepped out from the shadows and wrestled Bauer against a metal chair, binding him in heavy ropes.

Bauer stared at Jabuti with a defiant look. "Who's mother do I have to defame to get this process started?"

Jabuti hit the insolent American president across the face with his cane.

"I love it! Is that the best you've got?"

Jabuti smiled at the president. "You're a spirited man, President Bauer, but you're spirit will soon be broken." Jabuti turned to one of his men. "Bring the phone." He turned to the other guard. "You. Show the President our best hospitality."

The guard smiled and cracked his knuckles.


Outside, the rangers moved stealthily around the perimeter of the building. The second in command approached Smith and whispered. "The windows are too high. I don't know what kind of building code they have in this country, but it looks like the only way in or out is through the front door."

Something dripped on the ground between them. The second in command looked shocked. "You're bleeding!"

Smith put a finger on the ground and then touched it to his tongue. "It's sweet and tangy sauce." The soldiers looked up at the roof of the building. A rope came over the top and slapped against the tin siding. "I'll be damned."

"Is that?"

"Mr. Vice President. The McRib."


Jabuti put his cane under Bauer's chin and raised his head. "You will call Washington and give the order that a helicopter is to be sent with one hundred million dollars in unmarked bills and my friends released from their unjust imprisonment."

"I'll see you in hell."

Jabuti punched Bauer in the gut, causing the President to cough up blood. "Stay on the subject." A wild look came into Jabuti's eyes. He turned to the guards. "Is someone making hot pockets?"

It was all Bauer needed.

He swiftly kicked Jabuti in the groin and shook off his bonds. He leaped from the chair and sank his teeth into the madman's neck, mumbling as his teeth clenched on the tight flesh. "Tel thm to dop thr wupons."

Jabuti's face filled with fear. "Do as he says! Drop your weapons."

"A ltl hlp hr."

The students looked at each other. "What did he say?"

Jabuti's eyes made crazy circles. "A little help here. He said he needed a little help."

One of the students rushed over and untied Bauer's hands. Bauer pulled Jabuti's neck down with him toward the floor. He picked up a discarded rifle and stuck it under Jabuti's neck as he released his hold on the maniac's jugular.

"That's better." He glanced at the student, a med student named Todd. "Thanks, sugar." Bauer glared at Jabuti's men. "Now, if you don't mind, tie those boys together and try to do a better job than they did with me."

"Yes sir."

Bauer shot a confused look at the boy, but gave him a gentlemanly pat on the ass all the same. "You can call me Jack."


Moments later, the students emerged from the building. Bauer followed with the rifle stuck in Jabuti's back.

The rangers grabbed Jabuti and ushered the students away to safety. Smith smiled at the Commander in Chief. "Thank God you're alright."

Bauer shook his head. "Thank the McRib." Bauer frowned. "You better send a couple men in there. I left more trash upstairs."

Smith nodded and gestured for his troops to head inside.

Bauer rubbed his sore neck. "What time is it?"

"Oh-eight-hundred on the nose."

"Good. I've got at least four minutes to spare. Do you have a phone with you?"

"Yeah. Our communications officer has one that'll work."

"Good. I need to call off an air strike."

Smith turned around as two of his soldiers repelled down the side of the building, one holding the Vice President. Smith slapped them on the back. "Great work, guys. Come on, let's get something to eat and something for these kids."

The soldier holding the McRib looked down, fatigue and hunger in his eyes. Bauer stepped toward him. "Don't even think about it."

"I'm sorry, sir. Sometimes I forget the Vice President is a sandwich."

Bauer took the McRib from the soldier and smiled. "The McRib's no sandwich, son. The McRib's a hero."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Goodbye. Goodnight. Good morning. Goodbye.

She watched him, stuck between wanting to scream and cry; and wanting to just walk away. It had happened before, but she could feel the difference this time. For a moment, she was angry, pissed off that she was expected to hold things together when he wasn't sure of his own heart. She let it go with a sigh and sat--not next to him, but two chairs down.

He stared at the cigarette he had taken from her pack, pushing it around in a jar lid. "You okay?"

She started crying again, but nodded. "Yeah."

This was the "real" breakup, the one they had dodged half a dozen times before, through bad fights and jealousy. This was the one they wouldn't come back from. She took a cigarette and lit it. He pushed the jar lid across the table, halfway between them.

It was a meaningless gesture, but it made her cry harder. She looked up at him, feeling herself getting sick. "Why is it so hard to stay together?"

He was quiet. Then he whispered out, looking down at the table. "I don't know." He couldn't cry. He was always closed off. She never knew how to get next to him, to touch him closer than skin. She never knew how to hold the part of him that was fighting to breathe inside.

She wondered what went through his mind, what he felt when they kissed and made love. She could feel it all the way through her. It was like a million tiny drops of cold water came alive on her skin and moved through her like lightning. Then she would look in his eyes and everything would go calm and warm again.

She took a drag off the cigarette and looked across the table. His face was tired. His eyes were a million miles away. She wanted to kiss him. More tears streaked down her face. She stubbed out the cigarette, not half-finished with it.

He finished his and pushed it into the jar lid. "I'm going to go, okay?" His face filled with worry and something else, something she couldn't read, fighting against himself. "Are you going to be alright?"

"Can you stay tonight?" He frowned. She shook her head, trying to hold back more tears. "No, don't."

He looked at her, wanting to hold her, wanting to make it easier. "I don't think I should."

"Just for a little while?"

He looked at her, feeling sick and ashamed. He knew he should have gone somewhere else, slept in his car or something. "Okay."

They went to the bedroom and undressed by the glow of the desk lamp. They climbed in bed carefully, afraid to touch each other. He turned off the lamp and rolled back over on his side. She curled up with her back to him, still crying into her pillow.

He watched her in silence until she rolled back toward him. "Can you hold me?"

He put his arms around her and they lie still in the dark. She cried into his shirt, soaking it. He picked up some tissues from the desk and handed them to her. She laughed as she wiped her face. She dropped the tissues by the bed and nestled against him again. Her body was warm and it made him uncomfortable, but he kept his arms around her.

"I love you." He looked down at her. "I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't say that."

He squeezed her harder. They lay awake until the sun came up, not saying another word for the rest of the night.

She got dressed for work and he walked her out to the parking lot. She wanted to call in sick, but knew she couldn't miss a day. They said "goodbye" and got in their cars. He drove across town, to the park where they used to take long walks. He parked near the rec center and leaned his seat back. The morning was hot and he needed a shower. He closed his eyes and fell into restless sleep, too disconnected to cry.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Buck's Shop

I entered the shop with one guard. Inmate "48592-A" reached his hand out, giving a big grin when I took it. He didn't get to shake hands very often. "I'm Buck Grant. Welcome to my shop." His hair was short, curly, and white; his eyes dark, but full of sparkle. "I guess it's the warden's, but you ask anyone around here, they'll tell you it's Buck's."

The warden informed me Buck had been disappointed the shop would be closed for the interview, but that he was easy to get along with. Having been here longer than most of the inmates, he'd earned the respect of those who understood the pecking order. I glanced down at my tape recorder. "This alright?"

Buck smiled. "Do your thing. If you think you gonna get something good, keep it rolling." He looked around, trying to decide where to begin. "I don't know what to show you. Most of this stuff we don't ever use. You ever see one of these?"

He gestured toward a large frame with a large crank handle and smooth metal cylinders. I shook my head.

"It's a metal roller. Flattens out pieces of flashing and sheet metal. I can't tell you when it's been used for anything like that. They're particular about anything we can cut down and sharpen." He paused, absently patting the roller with his left hand. "It's not that they think somebody's gonna sneak something out. We got metal detectors. It's mostly they don't want nothing to happen in here."

He took me around the room, showing me the grinders. He told a story about an inmate making a shiv from a five inch bolt and repeatedly punching it into another prisoner's skull. He shook his head, smiling and telling how "the one who done the punching wasn't wearing gloves." Buck said the bolt had been so hot coming off the grinder, it burned right through part of the hand. "I guess he was pretty mad, you know. Grabbed it and didn't even feel it burn." The injury and a shattered thumb from the impact of the punches resulted in a partial amputation. The other inmate survived with brain damage. Buck said it was the most serious thing that ever happened in the shop.

He showed me the welders and cutting torches. He laughed and told how one inmate would turn the oxygen tank on and stick the torch tip in his mouth to get high. He said he didn't know if it worked, but he'd heard about guys "doing this thing where they make themselves pass out and when they come back to, they get sort of a head rush and a high like that." Buck turned serious. "But I ain't never touched nothing. Sixty-one years and I've never used drugs, never had a drink." The grin came back as he gestured toward the young guard. "Not like Mr. Wilson here. He can barely stand up."

The young guard smiled a little.

Buck nodded, looking over his shop with pride. "I've spent a lot of years here. We used to make license plates." He laughed. "Most of what we do now doesn't have much practical use to nobody. The tasks performed are for job training and helping inmates develop skills for when they transition back into the workforce." It sounded like it was lifted from a Department of Corrections press release. Buck frowned. "The frustrating thing is these skills is not enough if you know anything about what's going on in the economy. Computers, office work, and service sector training are what's needed. We don't get much of that here."

I reexamined this white-haired economist in his blue coveralls. If I had not been told, I would never have guessed he was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He had not spoken with an attorney in over three decades. His life and world would never again extend further than the concrete walls surrounding him, but he still cared what happened to the other prisoners who would get a second chance on the outside.

We sat down on a work bench, since there were no chairs in the shop. He told me about starting out in the wood shop just to be doing something different and how he stopped going because the white boys considered it their own territory. He said the population was still pretty divided, but the metal shop was usually neutral. "Sometimes young guys walk in with attitude, but I tell them, 'You got beef, it'll keep. All you do is cool it.'"

The conversation turned back to his earliest days in prison. "I got transferred almost right off to Leavenworth, over in Kansas, about six hundred miles from home. I never saw no visitors. That place was bad then, you know what I mean? Everywhere is bad now, but that place was a special kind of bad. I wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for my initiation there." He told about guards not breaking up fights when inmates were killing each other. He talked about prisoners spending six months in solitary for their own protection.

He pointed to his lower back and spaced his fingers out, about 10 inches. "I've got a scar runs all the way around my side. A white boy found a wood strip in the binding of one of those old books in the library. He went around me like a can opener 'cause he thought I bumped into him on purpose. Did it with book binding, man. You believe that?" Buck broke into a grin. "He thought I was supposed to tell him I was sorry." Buck laughed and made the bench shake.

The wound wasn't treated until after Buck had spent the night in solitary confinement. He'd passed out from blood loss, but said it never bothered him after he was stitched up.

I had planned on a certain line of questioning, but sometimes you follow where the interview leads. He sat there, smiling and waiting while I tried to get the words right in my mind. "Can we talk a little about how you ended up in prison?"

He breathed deep, taking in the last of the room's heavy air. He sighed and rubbed his hands against his knees. Most inmates won't talk about what they did, especially those serving a life sentence. He glanced away, still grinning. "They probably told you, already."

He was right, but I didn't answer. I waited, not really expecting he'd go on. He turned back towards me and I felt myself go sick. His eyes were wet around the edges.

"I was 23. Jordan's number." The smile disappeared. "I'd done a few break ins, mostly stealing from warehouses and selling what I got at the flea market. I had a 22 calibre pop gun for all that." He looked down at his hands. He put them together and then placed them on his knees. "I come home on September 19th. I had my own place and had been seeing this girl for about a month." A small line made its way down one cheek. He smiled, pressing the tear between his lips, burying the feeling that was trying to come up. "She was sixteen."

He had lived with the facts for a long time, trying to match the events to numbers that didn't mean as much as emotions he couldn't touch. He breathed in. His voice trembled for a moment as he started again. "I come into the bedroom and she started screaming as soon as she saw me. He got on the edge of the bed and started putting on his pants. I wish he would have just run. I didn't have the gun then. I crossed the room and took the gun from the bottom of the night stand. You do things real close with a 22. I shot him under the left ear. Pop. And he fell over. I didn't say anything to her. She stopped screaming and I shot her three times."

The girl had been shot at point blank range in the face. Buck was arrested a week later, sleeping in a pile of tires behind a gas station. The murder weapon was never recovered. At the trial, Buck denied ever owning a pistol.

He was shaking a little. He stared at the floor. "I wished I'd done it to myself." I waited in the silence. "You don't expect to learn about things in a place like this, but even a life like mine is precious. All life is precious. It's hard to understand that. You don't even know it for yourself. You have to trust in it because it's what God knows is true."

I turned off the tape recorder.

The tears dried on his cheeks. He glanced down at the recorder, frowning. "You ain't got nothing more to ask?"

"I thought we'd take a break."

He looked around the shop. "You don't change who people are with these kind of programs, but you open up a lot of opportunities they never had before."

I nodded.

Buck turned the smile back on. Had I not been in the room a minute before, I would have never known he had been crying. He pointed to the rolling machine. "There was this one guy who wrote a letter to the warden wanting to run pennies through that thing. You know, to flatten them out and sell them like souvenirs, the way people flatten pennies on train tracks." He laughed. "Now, tell me. Who would want to buy something like that? Peoples' minds get like that, though. This becomes the real world and you don't think about the other one you came from. All that other stuff becomes memories of things that never happened and dreams of what can't ever exist."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pies and Cowboys Falling In Love

Ann knelt beside the bed and kissed the cross on her night stand. She wrapped up in a worn housecoat and walked barefoot across the cold floor. The walls were still gray as the sun had not yet crept above the trees.

She opened the cabinets and took down flour, salt, and shortening. She sprinkled flour on the counter and smiled as the birds sang to each another outside. She'd throw something to them in a little bit.

She scooped out shortening with one hand and flour with the other. Ann squeezed them together and added handfuls of flour and more shortening until a large, soft ball was formed. She sprinkled a little salt and kept working at the dough. Her hands ached in the morning, but were strong from years of practice. The dough was soon as soft and smooth as baby's skin.

She rinsed her hands in the sink. The sun was bright and came in strong through the windows. Ann closed the blinds and took her rolling pin from the top drawer. She kept it in the bottom drawer for a long time, but as she got older, she baked more and more. She turned on the oven, allowing it time to heat up.

Two blue pie plates came down from beside the regular plates and were placed to the side. The rolling pin pushed into the dough. She sprinkled flour on the roller and turned the dough to spread it as far as she could. She took a knife from the dish drain and cut a large circle before delicately lifting it and placing it into a pie plate. She formed a ball from the remaining dough and went through the process again, until there was enough to fill the second dish.

From the refrigerator, she took out a large bowl of apples and pears. She waved off a pair of fruit flies and turned back to roll out another circle of dough. When it was thin enough, she cut it into perfect strips. Ann weaved them carefully atop each pie before neatly trimming the outside edges.

The oven was not quite ready. She collected the loose dough and carried it across the kitchen. She tossed the dough out the screen door, into the driveway. Two cardinals lighted down and made a quick breakfast of the tiny bits.

She ran water through the coffee maker and put two tea bags in a tall mug. The hot water steamed as she poured it on top of the tea. The gurgling of the coffee maker stopped and the house was quiet again. The birds still chattered outside, making their pretty songs.

Ann sat at the breakfast table. Most of it was covered with bins of buttons, old newspapers, and rinsed out bottles she had forgotten to put with the other recycling. She tried to be good at it, but could never remember what could be recycled and what couldn't. Her nephew, Jim, had shown her the symbols she could look for on the bottom of the bottles, but she never remembered to look.

It was Jim's birthday. He was coming home from college and her sister, Kathy, had invited everyone over. Jim liked pies better than cake. Kathy had never been much of a cook, so Ann made him two pies every year on his birthday. She always looked forward to it. Sometimes she made them for no reason at all. She loved making pies for people.

When she was younger, Ann was a quiet girl. She waited patiently, hoping a man would come along and ask her to marry. There had been a couple who had, but when they did, she was afraid she wouldn't make a good wife. She told them she couldn't marry them. She worked quietly at the furniture plant for twenty years, until it shut down. She never spent a penny more than what she needed to live on and what she could spare for the collection plate.

After the furniture factory closed, the church helped place her with a program for helping older members of the community with cooking, cleaning, and home assistance. She'd never been a big reader, but Mrs. Owens said she had a beautiful voice. Ann never thought her voice was beautiful, but she discovered she loved reading Mrs. Owens' books to her. They were mostly romance stories disguised as westerns. Zane Grey had been Mrs. Owen's favorite. She missed Mrs. Owens.

Ann's thoughts drifted back to the present. She got up and picked up one of the plates with a towel. Hot air billowed out as she opened the oven. She put in the first pie, then the second, and closed the door quickly. Her forehead beaded with sweat as she sat back down to her tea. She took a small sip and put it down. She was never good at drinking hot drinks. She always waited until there was no steam trailing off.

The smell of cinnamon and brown sugar filled the kitchen as the sun climbed higher in the sky. It would be good to see the family. Maybe she'd make a couple extra pies for Jim to take back to school.

Ann brushed away a wisp of hair that had fallen in front of her eyes. The birds darted in and out of the bushes outside. Ann let out a sigh and blew on the tea to cool it down. She was lonely, but would always have people to make pies for and books to read about cowboys falling in love.