Unless specified otherwise, text on this blog is copyright © by Christine Young.

My Belief

"The value of humanity can be found in the way we proceed through life; the way we go or do not go to war; the way we hate or love our neighbor; the way we abuse or cherish our children, and, most importantly, the way we disregard or value nature and all the beautiful creatures sharing this planet with us. Respect and appreciation of nature and of all life itself is the foundation upon which a kind heart stands."

"Happiness is important. When you're happy your soul's thirst for light is quenched. But sadness is also important, as it allows for down time and contemplation, and, without sadness, how could we recognize happiness."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Commonwealth of Souls, by Christine Young

Chapter One
John Carroll
November 8, 1982

I am a man of many moods. I am passionate about certain aspects of my life; my job, good books, movies, drinking, which I do well, and, neither here nor there about everything else. I suppose you could call me indifferent or unconcerned about other people and things. The opposite is true. I do care about people—strangers even—when I see an injustice being done, but I learned a long time ago to keep it all inside, unless I can right then and there do something about it.

I have my 9-5 job at the print shop, a few blocks from my apartment in Lynbrook on Long Island. The best part of that of course is that I save on gas, and I’m also a few blocks from the train station. I go into the city a lot. Anyway, I love my job.  It is detailed work and I can get lost in it. I like my boss, which is a good thing. I’m friendly with the people I work with, yet I don’t hang out with them after work. I go to the Corner Bar for a few beers, which is where I find my pals, Joey, Kenny and the owner and bartender, Anthony. It’s a small place and the beer on tap is cheap. The crowd isn’t bad; no bikers or degenerates; mostly blue collar workers, a few Vietnam War vets, and an even smaller number of WWII vets. Occasionally you will find a woman or two connected at the hip to a guy or two, but rarely a woman alone. It’s my favorite bar. I can sit and contemplate for hours and no outside forces can bother me. Only my thoughts are allowed to come with me into this haven of solitude, and if they get out of hand, I will attack them with a double shot of vodka. There are other bars and clubs I go to occasionally, but for a different reason. I was not looking for that type of companionship tonight. I sat at my usual stool near the juke box facing the door; making sure I was able to see every face coming in.  

Joey Pike was already at the bar having a beer when I got there. He’s a plump old man with a hearing aid. He’s bald, with a bit salt and pepper hair lining the top of each ear. He is one of the few WWII vets. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He met his wife during the war when he was stationed in England. They got married soon after the war and moved to Brooklyn, where Joey grew up. Joey talks a lot about his war days. He was very proud to fight alongside his British allies. He talked a lot about the people there. At first there was a little animosity from the English because it took so long for the US to enter the war, and it took the attack on Pearl Harbor to make it happen. But in time Joey felt only friendship and appreciation from them. He had many stories to tell about England; a country he came to love. In every story Joey tells I sense a secret passageway into his past, and if I listen intently, I will find myself living the past with him. I'm not even aware that I've gone on this journey until his tale ends; that's when he leaves for the night, tipping his tweed herringbone cap and saying ‘cheerio’, a phrase he latched onto from his days in England. 

Kenny came in soon after me. We call him Professor. He’s about twenty-nine and has spent most of his life in school studying this and that. ‘My goal in life,’ he repeats over and over like we haven’t heard it before, ‘is to learn as much as I can in the short amount of time I’ve got left on this planet.’ I asked him once what he intended to do with all that knowledge, ‘wouldn’t it be better to specialize in one subject so you can master it?’ and he would argue, ‘no, no, no; you can never learn too much!’ 

I turned to greet him, slapping him on the back as he sat down on the stool between me and Joey. “Hey professor, what’s doing.” 

“All’s good,” he said, “how about you guys.” 

“Good.” I said, and quickly added “I’m buying the first round—Anthony a seltzer and lime for the professor.”

Kenny’s drink was already made. Anthony knew exactly when he’d be walking in the door. You could set your clock by him. He walked in every weekday night at ten after five, always right after me, and had the same drink, seltzer and lime. 

Kenny gulped down his drink quickly and handed the glass back to Anthony. “I’ll have another please.”

I laughed and said, “Careful there, professor, or I’ll be taking your keys.”
The joke was that Kenny never drank alcohol. I asked him once about that, too, and he told me it was because he didn’t want anything dulling his senses. I respected that, but couldn’t fathom not having that beer after work. But Kenny was always good for a laugh, and he knew how to laugh at himself. He knew he was eccentric and made the most of it. He loved the Corner Bar. He said interacting with his fellow humans is a privilege, and that each person he meets and talks with and gets to know is a new thread in the fabric of his life. For me interacting with my fellow humans was done sparingly. I added no threads to the fabric of my life if I could avoid it. 

After Joey left for home, I turned to Kenny and Anthony, “I have to tell you guys about this dream I had last night. It was really out there.”

“Was it a nightmare?” said Anthony.

“No, not really. Just strange. I had a dream that I was on a beach sitting by myself. Nobody was around.” 

“What beach?” said Kenny.

“Does it matter?” said Anthony, “let him continue”.

“I don’t know what beach. There was sand and an ocean and I was alone.”

“No girls! No bikinis!” said Anthony.

“No. I remember I felt like I had been walking a long time but didn’t know where I was going. I felt tired, but very relaxed. I had a sensation of awareness, almost as if I was looking into my future and seeing my past at the same time. I felt like nothing could bother me. I walked closer to the water and sat down. The water was very choppy and I wanted to watch the waves as they hit the shore. Then there was a boat coming toward the shore with a man in it. And here’s the strange thing…” I stopped there to take a swig of beer, then continued, “…he had two faces.”

“OK,” said Anthony, “that’s weird!” 

“Very interesting,” said Kenny, “continue”.

“Yeah, he had two faces. Next thing he was out of the boat and walking toward me, but when he got closer he had only one face. Then he was right there in front of me introducing himself. ‘I am Martin,’ he said to me.

“Do you know any Martin’s?” said Kenny.

“Well, that is a strange dream,” Anthony said, shaking his head.

“I’m not done yet.” I said.

“There’s more?” said Anthony.

“Yeah, I remember him saying it had been a few days since someone came to the shore. He said his home was across the water and pointed to an island that all of a sudden appeared in the distance. He told me he missed his mother. Then he asked me, ‘did you love your mother?’ 

“That’s strange—want another beer?” said Anthony.

“Yeah, I’ll have one.” I replied.

“What about you professor, another seltzer and lime?” 

“No, I’m good,” said Kenny, staring at me all the while, “go on with your dream.” 

“As I said, he asked me, did I love my mother. So, I answered, yes, I do. Then he said, ‘tell me about her’ and I couldn’t remember my mother’s name or what she looked like. It was a blank. And I asked him why I couldn’t remember my mother, and he didn’t answer me. Then he turned around and walked away. Next thing I remember is I’m standing in front of a tipi drinking a cup of coffee with bunch of American Indian chiefs all smiling at me. That’s when I woke up.”

“Interesting,” said Kenny, shaking his head. “Very significant were those two faces.” 

“What do you mean?” I said.

“In ancient Roman religion there was a God, Janus...” 

“Oh, that’s right!” I interrupted Kenny before he could elaborate. I had suddenly remembered something I had read years ago about the God Janus. “He had two faces…one looking to the future and one to the past.”

“Yes,” Kenny replied, “to the ancient Romans it is said that Janus was the God of all beginnings and transitions.”

“Interesting—well, who knows what the hell it all means. I’m interested to see if I dream again tonight.”

“When I have an interesting dream,” said Anthony, “…if I wake up and I remember it, I write it down, and then I think about what happened the day before to try and make sense of it.”
Kenny looked like he was deep in thought, this was usually when he started quoting smart people, and he postulated, “Like Jung said, ‘Dreams are the guiding words of the soul. Why should I henceforth not love my dreams and not make their riddling images into objects of my daily consideration?’ …great quote.”

After I left the bar, I stopped at the deli and got a hero and a six pack for my dinner and went home. My apartment is small, but comfortable; a small bedroom and living room combo with a bathroom. I also have a hot plate and a small refrigerator. It is on the top floor of my landlord’s house. I keep to myself and don’t see them unless I am dropping off my rent check. They are a little weird so I keep my distance.

I thought more about my dream and the man with two faces. I’ve had dreams before, but this was different. Usually I can’t remember my dreams after I wake up, but this one lingered in my thoughts; mostly the man with two faces and not remembering what my mother looked like. 

I shook off the dream and put on the TV. I sat in bed and ate half of a rather large hero sandwich, washing it down with the 3 beers I had stacked, side by side, on the night table next to the photo of me and my dad sitting in a boat holding fishing poles. The other 3 beers were in the fridge. I must have been tired. I fell asleep and woke up to the voice of Henny Youngman—‘take my wife, please’— on Late Night with David Letterman. As I got up to turn off the TV, I heard a scratching noise outside. I looked out the window and saw a small dog scrounging in my landlord’s garbage can. I had seen this dog before. I slowly opened my window and called to him, ‘hey fella’. I think the sound of the window opening scared him and he ran off. He must be a stray, I thought. If I had been outside at the time I would have checked to see if he had a collar on. If not, I would have picked him up and brought him in. I looked at the clock on my night table. It was after 1:00 am. I set the alarm for 6 and went back to bed. 

I woke up with a major headache the next morning. I looked at my alarm clock and it was 10:30. “What the fuck!” I said, and jumped out of bed and grabbed the phone and called my boss.

“Pete, I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner. My alarm didn’t go off.” In that brief instant I decided I didn’t feel like going to work. “Pete, I’m not feeling well. Would you mind if I didn’t come in today?” 

“Not to worry,” he replied, “It’s not a busy day. Feel better.”

I knew all my work was caught up and everything was ready for the press. Pete was lenient with all of his employees. There were only a few who took advantage of his good nature, but they were younger, and even with them Pete was easy going. Don’t get me wrong, he was no push over, but these kids usually fell into line after a while. 

I made myself a small pot of coffee and sat watching TV for a little while. My headache wasn’t as bad, but it was still there, so I took two aspirin and went back to bed. I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until half past four when the phone rang. It was my mother checking in. Odd that mothers know when you’re not feeling well. She didn’t want anything specific. She talked about her office moving to a new location, and I realized it had been some time since I went for a visit. The dream I had the other night was still bothering me. 

“I was going to call you later,” I said.

“…About anything in particular?” 

“No, not really, I just haven’t talked to you in a while.”
“Oh. How is your job?”

“It’s good. I actually took a sick day today.”

“Are you sick, or is it a mental health day?” she chuckled slightly, and I had never known my mom to chuckle.

“No; it’s just a bad headache. I think it was something I ate.” 

“Well, feel better sweetheart. Come to visit me anytime you like.”

“I will.”

We ended our call. 

My mother usually doesn’t call me. I call her. You see, mom is always busy. She never just says she is busy, which I would appreciate more for the honesty, but she will have that hurried tone in her voice conveying the message that I should just ‘spit it out’. It's not rudeness. She's never rude—only busy. So, she'll make the kissing sound over the phone, and with a weary sigh say goodbye, and promise to meet for dinner soon. 

I wish my father were still alive. I was never afraid to approach him with anything. He had an open door and an open mind. As far as he was concerned, if I had thought it, it was worth a discussion; if I had heard it on the streets, it needed an explanation; and, if I had done it and it was wrong, it needed an ear my voice could penetrate and a mind my short-sightedness could duel with. I had the benefit of my father’s wisdom—not for telling me what was wrong or right, but for allowing me, with his guidance, to draw my own conclusions. We would have talked out this dream and laughed about it. 

When my father died, I was sixteen years old. Henceforth, I was the son of my mother only; the son of a successful business woman who had little time for me. Aside from today’s call, they are few and far between. I suppose I could call her more often than I do, but I don’t. I know she worries about me, but not once has she pried into my personal life the way all good mothers do. The thought occurred to me that it would improve my relationship with her if I found a girlfriend. She may take an interest in that—if I should suddenly produce a possible spouse. I would be interested to witness her reaction. I thought I might try it soon. I’d have to meet someone first. Tonight was as good a night as any. So, I took a shower, got dressed and headed to a bar a few towns away where I knew there would be a mixed crowd, hoping I’d have a lucky night and meet a nice woman to fall in love with and get married. No such luck. The night ended as it usually did for me in these types of bars; pretty girls that were hooked up already, and really pretty girls I was too afraid to approach. Besides, there were too many people in this bar and I started to feel paranoid. If Kenny or Anthony were with me it may have been different, but I was alone just drinking at the bar. 

I worked all the next day without interruption and I was glad for the distraction. I apologized to my boss again for being out the day before. I look back over my ten years at this job and can see that I am shown some favoritism. Why is because I’m fast and accurate and always there—except for yesterday. 

At five o’clock I went for a few beers at the Corner Bar. I had only meant to stay about half an hour and then go get some dinner, but I decided to order a hamburger and some fries and settle in for a few hours, which turned into five by the time I finally left. The cold night sobered me up quickly as I walked the three blocks to my apartment. There was no activity on my street, with the exception of that small dog again. I wondered where he came from. Who owned him? Why was he out so late, in the dark. That bothered me. If you’re going to have a dog, take care of it. By the time I reached the gate of the house, the dog ran off. I shook my head and whispered to myself, “Damn! I wanted to check his collar.” When I got up to my rooms I needed another beer and some TV to fall asleep.

I had another dream that night. I was back on that beach. A man was introducing me to a woman with red hair and a woman with black hair. I had a sensation that I was a boy of thirteen, and felt I anxious. The two women I had met were now bullies pushing me off my bicycle. Then a man showed up and put his arm around my shoulder and told me not to cry. We went into a cabin nearby and he told me to get some sleep. I remember trying to get comfortable and the cot was too short for my body. Next thing I heard was my alarm clock. It was Wednesday. I got up, showered and shaved, and went to work.

The Card on the Visor

Kathryn Brent
Tuesday, November 9, 1982

Young love sighs with each new day
The fire brightly burns,
How slow the pages turn
Old love remembers laughter in the rain,
The withered embers yearn,
And still, the pages turn
Yet in between love may decry
What it might have treasured.
Untended, the fire turns

While the pages quickly burn. There it is, the last line in the poem I have been trying to finish, and with that the clouds have shifted, allowing the last ray of evening sun to filter through the tiny hole in my window shade. It pierced my dimly lit bedroom, then, disappeared as quickly as it came. How obliging the sun is. I felt a cool breeze through the screen. 

The ray of sun just placed its light on the typewritten page as if to spotlight the end of this chapter in my life. The cool breeze represents the freshness of a new beginning. I feel a sense of peace now that I have finished my poem. I hadn’t written anything in years. But it seems that lost love and poetry go hand in hand, and I have been laboring on this for a while.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was writing a poem at least once or twice a week. At that time my passion for life was alive and well. Now that I am older, I struggle for the right words that used to come so easily to me. I think when the love in my life died, many passions died with it. They came back eventually, thank God, because I need them. Where would I be without my walks in the woods to hopefully catch a glimpse of the beautiful white heron as she glides so gracefully down onto the water; where would I be without my trees that I admire so greatly, their magnificence and stability, so beautiful and uniquely different from one another, from the young saplings to the old oaks, their branches spread wide to welcome the rising sun, and they remain open to the inhabitants of our world as testimony of a rich and bountiful earth; and where would I be without those monthly trips with my niece and nephew to Adventureland. I love being Auntie K. I love being a part of their childhood.

I’ve been thinking about my own childhood these past few days, and I feel an irresistible impulse to play the games I played as a child. I think a lot about the boy across the street who threw water balloons at me, which brings to mind my first kiss—which also happened to come from the boy across the street. These memories bring to life a powerful longing for the past and for the way things were, and they remind me that I am getting old. Perhaps that is why I’m unhappy

When I was ten years old my aunt had given me a beautiful plaque for my birthday. It was inscribed with this poem by Nathanial Hawthorne: “Happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” The words happiness and butterfly played a big part in this poem for me, since my first thought was to get a net and catch as many butterflies as I could. In my childish way I thought that the more butterflies I caught, the happier I would be. Now I know that catching a butterfly before it is ready to settle down would be denying it the essence of its flight, and the simple act of chasing it would alter its course, and it would fly faster and further away, until I wouldn’t be able to see it anymore.
My thoughts are reaching back to four years ago. I can visualize my X-fiancĂ©e sitting in the driver’s seat of his steel gray sports car; his white face and unrelenting red cheeks looking back at me. I found the card he had left there on purpose; the card from this Jennifer person thanking him for a fun-night-out, and looking forward, as it were, to more fun nights out. I remember each word of his response as if it were only yesterday.
“Who is Jennifer?” I asked.

“…My sister.” 

“No! Not your sister Jennifer, the Jennifer who can’t wait to see you again.”

I remembered David’s silence and apparent awkwardness.

“You left this card here on purpose so I would find it, didn’t you?”

David did not answer me at first, but I didn’t need an answer. I knew David so well. In the midst of this out-of-the-blue heartache, I was still concerned about him. We had been so close for eight years and we were going to be married. David was always so kind and thoughtful to me. I couldn’t even cry.

“What am I supposed to do now? My God! I just picked out my wedding dress with my mom last weekend. She probably won’t get her deposit back.” 

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” David said over and over. “I didn’t know how to tell you. I didn’t want to hurt you.” 

There were tears in David’s eyes, and I could see the tenderness there as well. Eight years ago, when I first met David, I looked into his eyes and saw everything that I had ever hoped for. Yes, even on day one I could see my future there. I remember telling my aunt all about David and his intelligent face and his laughing blue eyes; and my aunt confirming that ‘…Tis true my sweet, that if you want to know if a man is lying, all you need do is look into his eyes. If there is any meanness there it will show. If there is any dishonesty, it will show.’ There was never any meanness or dishonesty in David’s eyes. It was always kindness, and generosity, and love for me, his Princess Kate, as he so often referred to me. He had always put me on a pedestal. Even on that dreadful day four years ago, the kindness was still there in his watery eyes, but there was also anguish and concern. I knew he was having a hard time with this. I wasn’t going to make it easy for him. 

“Yes, I left the card there,” he said in a soft but resolute voice. Then after a moment of silence he continued. “I knew that if I did, then all I would have to do next would be to answer your questions and tell you the truth. I didn’t know what else to do. I’m so confused.”
I sat there for a while in silence. I was so angry at this point, and dumbfounded at what had just happened to me. I still couldn’t believe all that I had heard. This man that I loved so much was breaking up with me. Why? I didn’t understand in the least. I never saw it coming. What had I done to make him fall out of love with me? But his words seemed genuine and his demeanor conveyed a certainty that I could not deny. I looked passed him and over at the restaurant where we were about to go to for lunch. 

“I’m not hungry now. Please take me home.” 

He started the car and drove out of the parking lot. We drove in silence for a while. Then I just couldn’t restrain myself any longer. I picked up on his last words to me ‘I’m so confused,’ he had said. 

“So that’s it?” I said. My delayed response was to fling the card at his face. “You’re confused! How the hell are you confused? What’s the confusion all about? You don’t know now if you want to marry me. Or you definitely don’t want to marry me.” I began to cry.
David replied in a soft voice, “No. I don’t want to get married— to anybody. You don’t know how bad I feel about this because I still love you. I’ll always love you—love what we had. I can’t explain it. I only know that I don’t want to be married. So many things are hitting me hard right now; mostly my mom; her illness. Nothing is how it was and I just cannot deal with it.” 

And that’s how I remember this terrible time in my life. Every word is etched into my memory. The man I loved couldn’t be with me anymore. I guessed soon after our break up that it was my closeness to his family that David could not bear. There was a throbbing pain for him in my presence. I represented the good times; eight years of family barbeques, birthday parties and holidays spent together. I was a fixture in his household as he was in mine. My parents loved David and David’s parent’s loved me. But now, in his mind, there was no happiness; only his mother’s illness. He could not envision a life with me or any happiness on the horizon. Jennifer was a new beginning. She was a safe place to go where he could for a brief time forget his troubles. Through mutual friends I soon learned that David had met Jennifer one night while bar hopping with his drinking buddies. She was cute and friendly—if a little on the plump side. David promptly asked her out. That’s how it started. 

In retrospect, I had to acknowledge the special place Jennifer held in his life. She was the medicine he needed at a most crucial time. And as the days passed from one to the next they became closer. After a few months—and to the disdain of David’s two sisters, who didn’t like Jennifer that much and stated adamantly that they would never again get close to one of their brother’s girlfriends—I heard through the same mutual friend grapevine they were engaged to be married. 

But it wasn’t Jennifer who sat next to David at his mother’s funeral. Jennifer did not attend the funeral service. It was me, Katie, who waited in the vestibule of the church for the family to arrive, and it was me, Katie, whose hand he held as we walked up the center isle of the church. It was me, Katie, who loved David’s mother wholeheartedly, and it was my place to be there with him, despite the circumstances of our recently severed relationship; despite the fact that at some future date he would probably be saying ‘I do’ to Jennifer. Yes, it all seems like only yesterday. 

I had to shake off this thinking that was going on in my head. It’s been four years and I should just be over it already. Then I did what I always did when I was having David thoughts. I called my sister Teresa. She was visiting from Jersey and staying with my brother and his family. We talked for an hour, mostly about her kids and what was going on with them. I always ask about them and she goes into detail about school, report cards (which were always A’s and B’s) and sporting events. I didn’t like that my sister lived so far away, but Jersey is where her husband got the best job offer, so Jersey is where they live now. I suppose it could have been worse. He could have taken that job offer in California.

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” Teresa asked

“Why,” I said with some skepticism. I was afraid she was going to ask me to babysit while she and my brother and sister-in-law went out to dinner. Not that I would have minded really, as I enjoy being with my nieces and nephews.

“I called Nancy today and we thought we’d meet up early this evening for some drinks at this place she knows.”

“Shit, I haven’t seen Nancy in some time. Where is it?”

“Somewhere in Lynbrook, a few blocks in from Merrick Road.”

“Lynbrook! Couldn’t we meet halfway? Wantagh would be closer to us, between Freeport and Massapequa.”

“She says this place is nice and laid-back, with no riff-raff and a pool table and a dart board.”

“Oh, so you and Nancy can play darts all night while I watch?” I really hated darts. 

“There’s Pacman! Besides, the reason she chose this place was because a few of her friends are also meeting us there and they live in Valley Stream.”

“OK, I’m in. What time do you want me to pick you up?”

“Maryann is driving. We’ll pick you up at 7:30 after the kids are all bathed and settled.”

“You mean Paul is staying home with all the kids!”

“My God, Katie, you make it sound like there’s a slew of kids. It’s only my two and their two.”

“TWO! Where’s my namesake?” 

“She has a basketball game Friday evening, so she’s staying home with her dad.”

“Oh well. How is her team doing so far? I’d love to get to see one of her games this year.” 

“You will. Anyway, be ready at 7:30.”


Meeting Someone Nice

John’s Thoughts
Meeting Someone Nice 
November 10th

It was my late night at work. I punched out at eight o’clock. I was wide awake, so instead of going right home I wound up at a bar around the block from my place. Being Wednesday it was pretty quiet. There were three women playing pool, so I put a quarter on the side rail near the corner pocket, knowing for sure I’d be winning the table shortly.

“How long have they been at it?” I asked the bartender.

“Oh, for a while now. They’re not very good; just killing time. I think they’re waiting for some friends to show up.”

“Oh, so we’re going to have a bevy of beauties to look at.”

“We can only hope.” Replied the bartender with a broad smile.  

When their game was over I introduced myself as the next player. I decided to take them all on. I enjoy playing pool with women; there are no stakes and nothing to prove. The games are always fun, with no tension and no snide remarks. We played two games and I won both times. After a while their friends showed up and they all began a game of darts. Katie, one of the women I was playing pool with, didn't like darts and opted to sit with me and have a drink.

“It was fun playing pool, although I'm not very good. You’re good.” she said, smiling.

“I play a lot. What brings you out on a Wednesday?”

“So, you don't like darts.”

“Oh, no! I hate darts. I’ll just watch them enjoy themselves and I’ll play some tunes on the juke box. I’ll play all my favorite songs until my quarters run out.”

We talked about the music we enjoyed. The music Katie liked was not the same music that I listened to, or even cared for, but there was something in her manner when she was speaking about it. I got caught up in her enthusiasm, and as we talked more I discovered that we had a lot in common. We shared an appreciation for reading. She loved Tolkein and P.G. Wodehouse; James Herriot and Arthur Conan Doyle. I talked about Hesse and Dostoyevski; Steinbeck, Hunter S. Thompson and Hemmingway—authors Katie was aware of but had no abiding interest in. She was a very warm and friendly woman. She actually listened when I was speaking and offered her own interpretations and thoughts, so I knew she wasn’t only vaguely listening, but really interested in what I had to say. She was—or at least she seemed to be—interested in me, and wanted to know all about me; my job; where I had gone to school; and in turn I was interested to know the very same things about her.

“I’m here with my sister and sister-in-law. We were just waiting for my cousin and her friends to show up.”

“Do you have a big family?” I asked

“Well, sort of.  My mom and dad recently moved to Florida. My sister and her husband and kids live in Jersey—she’s here visiting my brother with her kids for a few days. My brother and his wife and kids live a few towns from me. They are buying a house and will be moving in a few weeks. It’s not much further from where they are now—oh, and there is my grandmother and my aunt who live in Brooklyn.”

We soon started talking about my family. That was a very short conversation. All I said was that my father died when I was sixteen and my mother lived and worked in Manhattan.

Time passed quickly. All the girls who were playing darts were now saying their goodbyes and Katie’s sister was anxious to leave. It was nearly midnight and she had to get up early the next day. But I was having a good time for a change and didn't want the evening to end. Nevertheless, it ended, and I had to be content with Katie’s phone number, and her assurance that she would like to have dinner with me soon. I thought about her all the next day and the day after. Then a week had gone by and I still hadn't called her. What was I waiting for?


John’s Mother and the New Office
Friday, November 12th

I decided to go into Manhattan to see my mother and then go see a film at a revival theatre downtown. Her office recently moved to a new location and she has been spending a good portion of her days settling into her new surroundings. I pictured her arranging her furniture and mahogany bookcases; hanging her beloved paintings according to the sketch her interior designer had prepared for her—there’s always an interior designer; and unpacking her leather bound books with loving care, placing each one in its designated spot on the shelf. As at home, she arranges them in sections: first by the country, then by author, then by title—and I wonder why I’m so anal.

When I arrived she was sitting behind her desk. It was early evening and she was eyeing her new sofa with satisfaction. I knew the look. There was a calm silence about her. Some have characterized my mother as being cold and uncompromising, but that is not true. Her business partner told me once, ‘your mom is quiet yet absolute in her dealings with her work associates, and an intimidating figure to her staff. Nevertheless, she is a fair woman of business who conducts herself in a professional manner at all times.’ It was the way he said it that etched this perception of my mother in my mind. I remember feeling proud. 
She was startled by my sudden appearance in the doorway.

“Mom, I’m sorry I scared you. I should have called.”

“Oh, I am glad you are here, John. Come in and see my new set-up.” She stood up and gave me a hug and a kiss. My heart started to pound as I remembered my dream, and in that dream not being able to recall her face, as if she were lost to me. There were times I couldn’t stand to be around her, but I loved her. 

“Is everything ok?” she sensed something and looked concerned.

“Oh, sure…all is well.” I changed the subject. “I had no idea you were so close to moving. I went by your old office and they told me where to find you.” I looked around now to take in the layout of the office. “I like it a lot.”

I was pleased to see my mother in a good mood. I looked at the sofa. It was nice; one I might have picked out for myself.
 If my mom taught me anything it was to appreciate the finer things in life, and we appeared to have the same taste in furniture.

I sat down and she returned to her desk, which is where she seemed most comfortable, and where I was used to seeing her. On many occasions when there was no school, and my father was at a job site, and the housekeeper was off, I would go with my mother to work. I was nearly thirteen years old before my mother felt at ease leaving me home alone, and even at that time she would try and coax me into spending the day with her by creating special tasks that only I could handle; telling me ‘you’re the only one I trust to do this, John.’ At first, I was pleased that my mother thought so much of my capabilities, but then when the work started to get boring, I refused to do any more time. 

“What brings you into Manhattan?”

“There’s an old movie playing downtown that I want to see. It starts at seven forty-five, so I really can’t stay. Maybe you’d like to tag along.”

I knew she wouldn’t want to go. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even ask me what film was playing. She never seemed to have any interest in movies. It was the opera that she enjoyed—or the ballet.

“No, thank you dear, I have to stay and finish up here. I want to be settled in so I can oversee the rest of the move tomorrow, but I would like to have dinner with you one night next week.”

“I think I can get in here next week. How’s Thursday, I’ll meet you here at seven.”

I dreaded having dinner with my mother. We really didn’t have a lot in common—not that it’s required by law to have things in common with your mother, but I wished that we had—other than our taste in furniture— a common thread; something to connect us on a permanent basis; something that would prompt the call to arms of ‘did you know’ or “mother, guess what?’ These are the interactions I would have had with my father if he were still alive. I think if my father was alive there would be less awkwardness around my mother. I would be going to their home for dinner. It would be the three of us, and my father would be a big part of the day for me, as he had a ‘gift for gab’ as my mom would say; we’d be watching TV or listening to some Jazz, which we both loved, and my mother would be cooking in the kitchen and setting the table for dinner, and she truly loved that. For her, cooking was a pleasant distraction from work, and she did it well.

Anyway, what would it take to peak her interest? What could I say that would generate a spark and take her away from this business world that she has encased herself in for all these years, even if only for a few minutes?

“Oh, by the way, I’ve met someone.” I blurted out.

I noticed an immediate change in her demeanor. I was right. All it took was the announcement of a possible love interest.

“When did this happen?” She smiled, and there was a definite spark there.

“You met her in a bar?” she asked with a self-composed inquisitiveness. 

“Yes, I did. Is there something wrong with that?” I was slightly irritated at the question.

“No, no, dear. I just thought that…never mind.”

I knew what my mother was going to say and I hated her reasoning on issues of social standing and refinement, that ‘nice girls can be met at church or in the library’. I always wondered about that church part, since I had not once witnessed her going to church, yet she would send me off every Sunday with a check for the basket.

“It wasn't that kind of bar, Mom, she’s a nice woman. Let us leave it at that.”

“I am sure she is nice. I would like to meet her. You should bring her along to our dinner Thursday evening.”

“Mom, I just met her. I haven’t even asked her out on a date. It was just an exchange of phone numbers and a promise to give her a call one of these days. We had a nice time talking. I liked her.”

“Oh, well, I am happy for you. Keep me up to date.”

was intending to contact Katie, because I hadn’t really stopped thinking about her since the other night. Maybe I'll give her a call tomorrow and ask her out to dinner.

The Little Dog

John Carroll

After leaving my mother, I changed my mind about seeing the film. I didn’t really feel like going by myself and then thought that I should have asked Katie to come along. But I had only just met her. It would have been too soon. I was feeling crappy. I wound up in some dive near the train station. I had never been there before. It wasn’t a bad place and the bar tender was friendly. After a while I started feeling worse. Then the door opened and a rush of cold air came in along with a pretty girl. I leaned back on my bar stool so I could get a better look at her. ‘Nice legs!’ I thought to myself. My mind was a little hazy, but my eyes were just fine. The good news was that she had entered by herself. The bad news was my inability to make a good impression; if she had only come through an hour earlier. It didn’t matter anyway. She was gone already. I heard the words 'flat' and 'I don’t have a jack' and saw an old man escort her out the door. I wished that I was sober enough to offer a helping hand. Opportunity never knocks at my door. But I was wrong; opportunity had knocked when I met Katie. She was friendly and attractive and I’ve been thinking about her ever since I met her.

The door burst open again and three bikers came in. This was my cue to go home. I always felt intimidated by the bikers— and I was too drunk to tell them apart from the less formidable patrons. I tipped the hat I did not even have on to the bartender, and left for home, which was a half mile east from this bar; a mile west from last night’s bar; and one block west, two blocks south from Wednesday night’s bar. I had been walking a lot lately. By the time I arrived at my front door I was feeling a little better. As I put the key in the lock of my front door, I was startled by a rumbling noise behind me on the sidewalk. I turned around with every intention of having to fight someone off, but it was that little dog again.

“Damn, you would just think people would take care of their animals.”

I walked over to him slowly, speaking softly “Hey fella, what are you doing out so late?”

With a slight wag of his tail he came closer to me and began sniffing my feet. I let him control the situation and soon his tail was wagging non-stop. I bent down to his level and began rubbing the side of his face and behind his ears and speaking softly to him all the while. Then he rolled over on his back, tail still wagging, for me to rub his belly.

“You’re a nice dog? Who do you belong to?”

He was a medium size dog with blackish brown fur and a white belly, which I could see in the outside lamplight. He had no license or name tag on his collar. “Hey, would you like to spend the night with me? How about it, fella, you look like you could use some company. I know I could.” I got up and patted my thigh “come on boy, let’s go.” He followed me right up to my front door and sat panting and wagging his tale while I fumbled with the key, trying my best to keep quiet.

“Shush now, you have to be quiet or my landlords will hear you. I don’t like them—and neither will you. Good thing they’re sleeping, isn’t it, fella?”

I think I got up the stare case and into my bedroom without my landlords hearing me. The first thing I did was to get a bowl to put water in. I also had a half-eaten roast beef sandwich in my little fridge, so I put that on a plate for him.

“Tomorrow I’ll buy you some dog food.”  

I laid out the morning’s Newsday on the floor by the door just in case. “It’s OK, though, if you have an accident.” I told him, rubbing him behind the ear. "I’ve had a few mishaps myself.”

The little dog settled in very nicely, snuggling into the blanket I placed alongside my bed. The last thing I remember was the dog jumping up on the bed and resting his face on my leg before I fell into a sound sleep. 

A Theory of Probability

November 12th

It was Friday evening and I was sitting with my friend, Linda, drinking a glass of warm milk. I had been thinking about John a lot; this nice man that I had met at the bar the week before, and I was telling her all about him.

“He’s a little taller than I am. He has thick, brown, wavy hair and blue eyes and a great smile.”

“Sounds gorgeous?” she said.

“No. Not gorgeous—I don’t go for that type. He’s just handsome and nice. I don’t know what it is about him. He’s younger than I am, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to him.”

“How many years? Age means nothing.” Linda said.

“Six years, but really, he acts older. It doesn’t matter. He hasn’t called me yet and I don’t think he will.”

“And why do you say that?” Linda replied.

“Because they never call.”

“What a defeatist attitude.”

“It’s a Saturday nighthe’s probably out with someone.”

“…Or maybe not. You’re a little too anxious. In all probability he will call."

Linda is always the optimist. It was about six months ago that she and her husband accepted my application to rent rooms in their house. I have the basement apartment. It didn’t take long for us to become good friends. She is so sweet, and so is her husband. He’s a big rig driver so he’s off a lot. They have two children and a big orange cat named Cleo.

Linda was tired. She got up and took the cups to the sink. “Don’t you even think about doing these dishes. I’ll do them tomorrow. I’m going to bed to read—and stop thinking too much about this guy. A watched pot never boils.”

Linda started to make her way upstairs, yelling down to me “…and a phone never rings if you stare at it.”

I looked down at little Cleo, who was curling herself around my leg, and I sighed, “she’s right you know.”

I called up again to Linda, “Do you mind if I take Cleo down to my apartment with me?”

She called down, “Of course not. Just remember in the morning that she’s with you, so you don’t accidentally let her out.”

“Never!” I picked Cleo up and brought her down to my apartment.

Cleo took a liking to me almost immediately after I moved in. She’s a very loving cat. I never had a cat and I think now I will always like them. She curled up beside me in bed. What a comfortable feeling it is to have a cat purring away beside me while I read. The warm milk was having an effect on me too and my eyes started to close. I was very much at ease now and Linda’s words to me: in all probability he will call; a watched pot never boils; if the phone rings in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound—no, that wasn’t it—it’s the phone that never rings if you stare at it. All these words were beginning to fade into sleep when the phone actually did ring.

It was John! I was so happy to hear his voice. We talked for a little bit and then he finally asked, “Would you like to have dinner tomorrow night?”

“I don’t think I have anything planned…” I said, not wanting to sound too desperate. “No, I don’t have anything going on, so yes, I would love to.”

After we hung up I turned over, wrapped my arms around Cleo and kissed her little head. “What a little lucky charm you turned out to be tonight.”

The Date


Katie and I had dinner in a quiet restaurant and afterward walked through Washington Square Park. I took a deep breath in of the cool, fresh air and said, “I feel as though I belong here. I’m not much of a suburbanite. Someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a small studio apartment here.”

“You’d live in the city?”

“Of course; in a heart-beat!” I said.

“I feel very out of place in the city. I don’t know why. It’s hard to explain.”

“I hope you’re having a good time.”

“Oh yes. I’m having a great time with you. But I don’t think I could have a steady diet of this place. It depresses me a little. Look at that man on the bench.”

I looked over and saw the man she was talking about, dressed in filthy clothes lying on a bench; an old torn blanket over him for warmth. I saw another poor soul staggering around with a brown bagged beverage having an argument with himself.

“You see.” Katie said, nodding her head in his direction. “That’s what I’m talking about. I couldn’t look at that on a regular basis. It depresses me.”

“That’s because you’re not used to it. Besides they're just people like you and me who have fallen on some hard times. And there are shelters they can go to for warmth and for help. A lot of them don’t want to. They’d rather live on the streets. I’ve been traipsing around Manhattan for most of my life. I don’t even notice things like that anymore.”

“But, how could you not notice it?”

“OK, I notice it, but I don’t dwell on it—look over there for instance…” I pointed out the young couple walking their dog, “…normal everyday people. Don’t focus on the negative. Look at what’s great about this place. It’s the greatest city in the world.”

“You’re right.” Katie changed the subject. “Nice retriever!”

“You like dogs?”

“Oh yes, though I don’t have one now. My landlord has a cat named Cleo. She’s a great cat and sometimes sleeps with me. But I’ve always had dogs when I was growing up. I love them.”

“I think I just adopted one.”

“O really! What’s his name? I’d love to see him.”

“I’m calling him Benji. He was a stray I kept seeing in front of my apartment and I finally took him in. I was a little drunk at the time. I still can’t believe I got him upstairs without my landlords hearing. He’s quiet, too. He didn’t bark; just licked me in the face when he wanted me out of bed.”

Katie became very interested in my story of the little dog. I knew she must love animals, which was a point in her favor.

"What kind of dog is he?"

“Who knows…some kind of mix…looks like a terrier?” I replied.

“Do you think he belongs to someone in your neighborhood?”

“I don’t know—maybe so, but not anymore. He’s mine now. We’ve already bonded.”

I took Katie’s hand.  She looked up at me and smiled, "That's what happens when you leave your dog loose; a more deserving person finds him."

We had a great time in the city. When we got back home we stopped in at the bar where we had first met. There was no one there except the bartender, but you could tell there had been some goings on. The smell of beer was so strong that I nearly gagged. I felt a bit claustrophobic too after spending most of the evening in the park, and we really should have called it a night. I didn’t want the night to end though and I think Katie felt the same. Nothing could wipe the smile off my face. I felt like a puppy that was finally taken home to a safe, warm house. No, not at all like a puppy, more like an adult dog, like my new dog, who had been left to fend for himself more times than he could count, by various owners who had tried and failed to live with him; a dog who had been misunderstood and at times abused. This is the dog I felt like. If I had a tail it would be wagging.