Tag Archives: Author: Ken Weene

October 26, 2014: Mother-In-Law Day

 

Mothers-in-laws are a favorite butt of jokes for stand-up comedians.  Rumble seats in the old coupes and roadsters were called mother-in-law seats because those who rode in them were out of the passenger compartment, and presumably out of the driver’s hair.  If you google “mother-in-law jokes” you will have page after page of sites listed.  A few of the less offensive ones are listed below:

Adam the happiest man who ever lived because he didn’t have a mother‑in‑law.

My mother‑in‑law’s second car is a broom.

A man in a bar says to his friend, “My mother-in-law is an angel.”  His friend replies, “You’re lucky.  Mine’s still alive.”

Q: What’s the difference between an outlaw and my mother-in‑law?   A: An outlaw is wanted!

The definition of mixed emotions is seeing your mother‑in‑law drive over the cliff in your new Porsche.

So is Mother-In-Law Day a joke, too?  Absolutely not.  Started in 1934 by a newspaper editor in Amaraillo, Texas, it is now observed on the fourth Sunday in October.  Or not.  Over the last eighty years it has not exactly caught fire.   But do mothers-in-law deserve the almost universal vilification and lack of recognition they have received?  Maybe some do, for there are both good ones and bad ones.  Yet, if anyone suggested ignoring Mother’s Day and Father’s Day because some mothers and fathers have not deserved to be honored, they would be booed and driven from the stage in a shower of rotten tomatoes.  In that spirit, some of us who had or have a great mother-in-law have written about them to honor them on Mother-In-Law Day.

From the moment we first met, my mother-in-law and I hit it off.  She was attractive, lively and had an incredible wit.  If she were angry with someone, that wit could have a razor edge.  However, in the 36 years I knew her, she never turned her quick mind against me.  In fact, my wife (an only child) used to say that she knew we had to work any disagreements out because she could never “run home to Mama.”  She said that Mama would have sent her back to me, her buddy.  After college, I ended up working in my in-laws’ family business.  I ran one of two locations and had pretty much total control of its day-to-day operation.  They also almost always had a house close to my wife and me.  For 16 years, they even had one on the same property as ours.  We went on a number of cruises as a family over the years.  Normally, that would be a recipe for disaster: working, living and playing in such close proximity with family often causes friction.  Such was not the case with my mother-in-law.  While there were a few occasions when my father-in-law and I had problems, my mother-in-law stood as Horatio on the bridge against his angry outbursts (which he did have).  Her rapier wit provided a great defense.

My mother-in-law thought that the term “in-law” was demeaning to me and seldom used it.  At a dance at a country club to which my in-laws (sorry) belonged, we danced together.  A woman who was also a member asked her who I was.  “My son, Ron,” she replied without hesitation.  The lady smiled.  “Oh, I can see the resemblance.”  We both had a hard time refraining from laughter until we were out of the woman’s earshot.

To say we were simpatico would be an understatement.  We both enjoyed a similar sense of humor, oft considered warped by those who did not think in the same way we did.  We both were avid readers, devouring books.  We both enjoyed crossword puzzles.  We both took Latin in high school, the “dead language.”

Sadly, she was stricken with Alzheimer’s.  Even as this horrendous disease attacked her, she kept her sense of humor.  “There’s one advantage,” she once told me.  “I can read the same book over and over again.”  As the disease progressed, she forgot my name, but she would look at me and say, “You’re a good man.”  After her passing, I wrote her eulogy, which was sent to all who knew and loved her.  It was a woeful duty and a great honor.  As her son, it was also my right.  So I now honor her memory on Mother-In-Law Day, although Altera Matris Diem, translated from Latin as “Other Mother’s Day,” would be much more appropriate and I am sure one she would prefer.

For about eight years, Ron Cherry has written a column about classic cars and street rods in The Union newspaper. His short stories have been in several online magazines, including The Dan O’Brien Project, Devilfish Review, Writing Raw, and Ineffective Ink.  He has two book on Amazon, Christmas Cracker and Foul Shot, with another due before the end of the year.

www.rlcherry.com

Mil- Ron's true friendMy Altera Matris Diem and true friend.



Determined—Yep, That Would Be the Word
By Kenneth Weene

We hadn’t expected that call, in the middle of the night, like in the movies.  I answered.  “What?”  It took a moment to register.  “How?”  Then the news hit.  “Oh, I’m so sorry!”

My father-in-law was on the phone. His words gurgled through tears. Isabel, his wife, my mother-in-law, was dead.  She had gone into the hospital for a hip replacement and was coming out with toe tags.  “An opportunistic fungal infection,” we were told.

After a few more hours of sleep—fitful at best—we packed and headed for Washington, where Sid, my father-in-law, awaited us.

While we packed, we talked about what we would need.  Funerals and sitting shiva meant clothes we didn’t usually wear.  My immediate reaction was to pack not a suit or sports jacket but sweaters,. Why? Because Isabel had knitted all my sweaters, and I had many.  Actually, I still have plenty of them, even after all these years and having given some away to charity.

Isabel knitted with the same determination she brought to every task.

Some years earlier, my wife and I had joined Sid and Isabel for a trip up the Pacific Coast.  While Sid drove nonstop, swinging into parking lots and right out again unless my wife or I demanded he let us jump out to actually see the sights, Isabel didn’t even glance out the window.  She was knitting.  A sweater for me, one for Jay, their son, perhaps one for Sid, on occasion one for my wife.  The needles never stopped clicking, and the results were always gorgeous, but not as gorgeous as the giant redwoods or the coastal views she was too busy to appreciate.  But, she was always determined to finish that sweater and get on to the next.

My wife Roz insisted I had to wear a suit, at least for the funeral. She was, of course, right.  After all, Isabel was also a lady, a very proper lady.  She would have been scandalized by me wearing a sweater, even one she had knitted.  We compromised;  a sweater would do for the house, when people came to offer their condolences.

After the service, we sat around and told stories about Isabel—yes, me in a sweater.  We talked of the dinner parties she threw and the work that went into them; each dish carefully made, with the table groaning under properly garnished plates, always including the chopped liver that she made especially for me.  We talked about the time she refused to leave work early even though there was a major snowstorm coming.  That evening, her car got stuck and she had to walk the last mile home in high heels through deep snow.  It never occurred to her to call a cab.  She just trudged on.  We talked about her reaction when Sid’s business had failed.  Isabel had insisted on going to work and helping pay off every creditor, leaving no one holding the bag of their bankruptcy.  Sid might have folded, but not Isabel.  Isabel never  folded.  She was a strong woman, a lady, and, above all, determined.

Life itches and torments Kenneth Weene like pesky flies. Annoyed, he picks up a pile of paper to slap at the buzzing and often whacks himself on the head. Each whack is another story. At least having half-blinded himself, he has learned to not wave the pencil about. Ken will, however, write on until the last gray cell has retreated and there are no longer these strange ideas demanding his feeble efforts. So many poems, stories, novels; and more to come. http://www.kennethweene.com

mil-keninsweaterYes, this is one of the sweaters.


“Mom-in-law”— My True Mother
By
Micki Peluso

Our first meeting was, shall we say, rather rocky.  Six months before, I had eloped with her son and the two of us were about to tell her and my father-in-law that we married outside the Church.  Not only that, I was three months pregnant.  She wept. Her husband muttered things in Italian whose meaning needed no translation. I was almost 18 and she was in her late 40s.  At first, her tears flowed because marrying outside of the Church was a mortal sin.  However, she rose to the occasion with dignity, compassion and an iron will.

Butch, my new husband, and I lived in his parents’ home but were placed in separate bedrooms until we were married “legally, in God’s eyes.” This lovely, persistent woman walked the hall nightly, making certain we never got together in the Biblical sense. Yet she liked me and I liked her. She was a health-food fanatic and I constantly slipped contraband like cookies, milk and the dreaded white bread into her home to compensate.  She served us good steak, which she broiled into beef jerky, with boiled escarole.

….Graciously, “Mom” looked the other way on my junk-food smuggling.  After all, she’d achieved her goal by coercing me into being tutored to raise my children Catholic in order to marry her son.  That was difficult for a feisty Baptist, raised on “fire and brimstone.”  After instructing me, the young priest was sent to a home for distressed clerics.  I felt vindicated.  Mom and I had a draw on this one

After the marriage in the Church rectory (at which time Butch fainted), Mom threw a huge reception with dozens of relatives, all Italian, all looking alike, all loving me unconditionally. After our first child was born, we moved to three hours away, where jobs were better.  I remember Mom driving up to see our two room apartment over roach-infested dry-cleaners. She once more wept and begged us to come back to her home.  We didn’t.

Over the next 10 years we had five more children and Mom babysat them whenever we were away.  The kids worshipped her — I often thought more than me.  Whenever I needed her, she drove to wherever we lived to help.  My own mother was always “too busy.”  The only time in my life that my mother-in-law couldn’t be there for me was when my 14-year-old Noelle was killed by a DWI.  Her intense grief paralyzed her and, like my own family, she suffered alone for a long time.  She had spent each night for ten days praying outside the ICU, hoping for a miracle for her granddaughter.

As my other children grew, married and gave her great-grandchildren, holiday celebrations were held at her home where she prepared delectable feasts, a far cry from her earlier disasters.  She was the Matriarch, loving, patient, yet stern in her beliefs which she expounded upon whenever she felt that a family member had strayed off the path of righteousness.

After my father-in-law passed away at the age of 79, Mom devoted her life to the Church and helping others. She maintained her wonderful, 150-year-old house into her 90s and had the strength of ten women.  Now, at 98, her blood tests are that of a 20-year-old.  She’s often tired and doesn’t do much, but is still able to live in her beloved home.

I call her every day and together we reminisce the wonderful past days and years — the good and the bad.  She has outlived her entire immediate family, older friends and a few doctors.  I treasure our calls as I try to prod her memory which is failing; dreading the day when this woman, who’s been mother and friend for most of my life, passes on to another Realm — to meet her Creator whom she’s served devotedly all her life.  She will leave a void within my heart that cannot be filled.

Micki Peluso is a journalist, book reviewer, editor and author of . And the Whippoorwill Sang. Her short stories are in several anthologies and her next book, Don’t Pluck the Duck, a collection of published essays, slice of life and short fiction will be released by December of 2014.

 MIL- Pelosi clanMom-in-law with the Peluso family

 

VIRGIE AND HER OLD CHEVETTE
By Sal Buttaci

 My mother-in-law Virgie Bateman poked along the winding roads of War Mountain in West Virginia on her way to do some food shopping at Jones & Spry. Her 1980 Chevette, once upon a time vibrant candy-apple red, now an almost dull orange, chugged its mechanical best to keep itself from stalling. When her husband  died in August 1989, Virgie  started driving again. Except for Sunday church, shopping, and an occasional visit to friends in the next holler, Virgie’s eyesore sat resting on the gravel outside her house.

Sharon and I shared the dream of one day cruising to Hawaii or lacing up and down the boot of Italy or buying first editions of bestsellers by one or more of our favorite 19th Century authors. With pleasure we could take that plunge and hopefully dive into one of those dreams. But then what about Virgie?

How would we feel dancing the night away in a Roman nightclub or lounging on the beach of Waikiki or walking out victors in an auction deal that net us an original Dickens, if Sharon’s mom had to tackle War Mountain in that old Chevette, shaky on its last wheels? Where would the joy be in that?

The grandest dream of my life has always been to realize the grandest dream of someone else. No way could Virgie Bateman’s dream come true unless Sharon and I won the Big Lottery, that in itself a dream, but if it had come to pass we would have laid aside our own wishes, and attended to hers.

Often we’d delight ourselves imagining the look on Virgie’s face when her blue eyes alighted on her sparkling white Toyota Corolla CE automatic sedan sitting like a miracle on the gravel her old Chevette no longer occupied. Could there be three happier people in all of West Virginia or anywhere else in the world?

Well, it never happened. We did not win the lottery. Virgie drove her old Chevette until it puttered its last, then, instead of returning to its graveled spot in front of Virgie’s house, it bummed a ride with a tow truck on its way to the county junkyard.

On January 14, 2013, brain cancer took Sharon’s mother away from us. She was eighty-three and we could hardly believe within days Virgie would be gone. She digressed from her usual cheery self to a hospital deathbed in Morgantown. How surreal it seemed!

Sometimes we hear comics cast aspersions on mothers-in-law. They label them meddlesome, demanding, opinionated, possessive, and a list of other negative name-calling. Virgie Bateman was none of these. I loved her as I loved my own mother. She was kind, affectionate, God-fearing, just, and everything good about a woman who had lived her life according to God’s Word and who loved her daughters and the spouses they chose with all her heart.

My dream for us now is to one day win for our souls life’s greatest fortune –– Heaven, where Sharon and I will meet Virgie again and stand with her in God’s glorious Light.

#

Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available athttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci

His book A Family of Sicilians… which critics called “the best book written about Sicilians” is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008
He lives in West Virginia with Sharon the love of his life.

www.salbuttaci.blogsport.com
www.twitter.com/sambpoet
www.facebook.com/salvatore.buttaci

Mil-Virgie Bateman,Sharon's mom in 2006Virgie Bateman, Sharon’s mom in 2006


You Don’t Beat the River by Kenneth Weene

Ken Weene PastedGraphic-1

 It was a good day for being on the river—warm, bright, a few clouds to make the sky interesting. It would have been better if the two river guides had been there for fun or even if they were doing a normal tour group, what the company called a float. It’s a great run—that section of the Colorado; just not when you’re looking for a dead man.

“Find him,” Ray, the rafting company manager, had instructed. “Take your time, stay in contact, and find that sucker.”

“Yeah, sure. Like the river is going to give him back.” Mike groused to his partner Jackie. “What was he thinking anyway? Get these high-end tourists, thinking they know better than us guides.”

The smartass remarks always burned the guides’ sensibilities. Full of I know it all:

“I don’t need a lifejacket.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve climbed mountains all over the world.”

“That’s why I go to the gym.”

“Hey, I’m paying you guys.”

Usually, they didn’t die, drown, or disappear. But this guy Floyd Murchison, Dr. Floyd Murchison, “You can call me Doc.” World-class neurosurgeon. Traveling with his wife Bernice—herself a college professor, political science it said on the forms.

One of the trip guides had asked him, maybe she’d even told him not to. He shucked the vest anyway and climbed up onto the rock.

“Just want a few minutes of peace and quiet. This is a break, isn’t it?”

“Okay.” She turned back. “Just, be careful, Doc.”

“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

He hadn’t. Ten, fifteen minutes later, Butch, the trip leader, yells, “Let’s saddle up. Another ten miles before lunch.”

Everybody’s grabbing paddles. Bernice is hollering, “Floyd!” “Floyd!” But there is no Floyd. He’s disappeared.

He must have slipped, gone into the water. Even if Floyd Murchison had been wearing his life vest, who knows if someone in the group would have spotted him? But they hadn’t. More than likely he drowned dashed against a rock, dragged under by the current, food for the fish.

Butch radioed in first chance he got a clear channel. Lot of good that did. Couple of runs with a copter. Again, maybe if Murchison was wearing that orange vest. Anyway, he wasn’t. Not a sign.

Ray, the office manager, said, “Mike, Jackie, you two run the river. Real slow. You look everywhere. Find him. Take your time, stay in contact, and find that sucker.”

Jackie’s sitting in the front of the two-seater. Mike in the back. Enough gear for four nights—extra for Murchison just in case—and of course a first aid kit.

The two guides look up at the pocka-pocka sound of the search helicopters heading back to their base in Vegas.

“I guess they didn’t find him.”

“I guess. Now it’s up to us,” Mike said.

As they pushed off, Ray said, “Mike, you find him. Call in. We’ll get a chopper in first thing. Even if he says he’s okay, we get that chopper in. Got it?”

“Sure, Ray.” He couldn’t hold it back. “Hey, Ray, you don’t think—”

“Not a chance in hell. It may not be brain surgery, but you don’t beat the river.”

He laughed like his little joke was real smart. That was Ray, always thinking he was funny.

“Glad I’m not working that float,” Jackie said.

“Yeah, pass me the water.” Mike took a swig, passed the bottle forward to his colleague, and they dug into the river. It would be miles before Thorny Bend; that was where Murchison had gone in; that was where the search would begin.

“You watch the south bank. I’ll take the north.” There were still a couple hours of daylight. No sense wasting it.

“Sure. Sure.” Jackie bites off her words even shorter than usual. Sounds more like she’s saying “Sh Sh”

“Hey, I’m not telling you what to do.”

“Maybe she’s thinking about last night.” He smiles to himself. Mike figures the search is useless but hopes the nights won’t be wasted.

Jackie nods and shifts her head to left and right, ignoring Mike’s plan. What the hell, he does the same. At least it makes the scenery more interesting. No matter how many times he paddles the canyon, he still loves it. The subtle variations of rock. The desperate vegetation rooting into every crevice. The river, alive, sometimes placid, at others roiling. The sky so far overhead. The occasional coyote, or elk, or bobcat. All kinds of life. In the sky, too. Especially the hawks and the eagles.

Mike still loves the river three days later when they pull out. The truck is there to meet them. Good thing about radios; they make it easier to plan.

“Nah,” Mike says before Ray can ask. “Not a sign.”

Jackie doesn’t say anything. There’s no reason.

The two guides allow their hands to touch for a moment.

*****

 For weeks the dead man weighs heavily on the guides. It is a silent weight marked only by the occasional blurted word.

“At least she’s rich.” Terri, one of the guides is reading a newspaper.

“Who?”

“The widow. You know that guy got killed?”

“In June?” Another guide asks like there was more than one.

“Yeah, that guy, the doctor.”

“What about him?”

“Her. His wife. She got the insurance. He had a ten million dollar policy. I guess that’s not so surprising him being a famous doctor and all. Twice that if they decide it was an accident.”

“That’s good,” It is said with no enthusiasm.

Butch, who hasn’t said much since that fated day, slams the door on his way out of the break room.

“There’s more. Seems like his own brain was going.” Terri turns another page of the paper.

“What do you mean?”

“Parkinson’s. Early stages. Least that’s what the story says.” Terri points at a something in the newspaper. “Says he couldn’t practice anymore.”

“That must of sucked,” Mike comments.

“Fer sure,” Jackie adds. She’s holding Mike’s hand. Jackie’s been doing that a lot lately.

The guides are hanging, waiting for Ray. An organizational meeting he calls it. Usually, that means he’s going to yell: mostly about obvious stuff like those life jackets. Like the guides don’t know. Like the customers will listen.

“You don’t think he—” The question hangs in the air.

Who knows? A guy gets depressed—even a famous neurosurgeon.

“Sure, sure,” Jackie says, biting her words short.

“Mike! Mike!” Ray’s voice shakes the young man out of wherever his mind has wandered.

*****

 He was shaky: the expected results of fatigue, hypothermia, hunger, and thirst. The Indian should have packed in more water, food, and a better blanket. At least the camouflage worked; he hadn’t been spotted that first day, when the helicopters were overhead and he’d hunkered down and waited for them to head back to the northwest.

The Indian’s trail markings had been hard to follow, but here he was. Now if the damned Indian didn’t forget, didn’t get drunk, didn’t just decide to leave him in the wilderness. He hated having to rely on other people, especially someone untrained, somebody like Charley Chained Horse.

“Due north from river.” The Indian had pointed in a random direction. “Follow trail I leave sign.” He dropped four stones, the first three the vertices of a triangle and one more stone next to one of the three. “Follow fourth stone. Easy hike. No take more than day, but wait them stop search. I meet when safe.”

“Easy hike indeed? What did he think I am, an aborigine like him?” Floyd was frothing his anger as Charley Chained Horse trotted across the rough landscape towards him.

Charley held out his hand in greeting. Reluctantly, Floyd took it. He wanted to carp, complain, and shout. If it was back at Denver General, if they were in the operating room; but Floyd still needed the squat Indian with his pocked complexion and straggled hair. “Took you long enough,” was the best he could muster.

“Raft company send guides look. Not safe before. Now we go.”

“Did you bring something to drink? Eat?”

Charley was already gathering the remains of Floyd’s campsite. “No trace. Hikers come and see.”

All the while, the White man was changing into hiking clothes. He slipped his feet into well-broken-in boots, laced them tightly, and tied the knot with special relish. “I always loved tying knots,” he observed to no one.

Floyd had planned it for months. “Not so hard,” he thought, “not like brain surgery.”

As he and the Indian walked south, back towards the river and their fording place, Floyd sucked two bottles of water dry and ate the candy bars Charley had brought. Much as it offended his fastidiousness, Floyd wiped the chocolate from his fingers onto his kakis and rubbed his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. Soon enough he would be out of this damned place and on his way to a new life.

“We hike down river few miles, cross there.” The Indian pointed downstream. “I leave horses, more food, water. Stay night. Catch helicopter out in morning.”

“I’ve been thinking about that, Charley. I’m not sure about that helicopter. Somebody might recognize me.”

“What you want do?”

“I figured we could ride out, up to the parking lot.”

“Cost more.”

“That’s fine. What, another fifty.”

“Two hundred.”

“Come on. Be reasonable.”

“Two hundred reasonable. Ride trail in dark. Dangerous. Ride down more danger. Two hundred.”

Floyd laughed to himself. He had worried the Indian might demand thousands. The gun in the old Dodge’s trunk would have been the solution if Charley got too greedy, too untrustworthy. Two hundred he could live with. Two hundred and he could let the Indian live, too.

Floyd had to admit it. Charley Chained Horse had followed his instructions, done his job, and kept his mouth shut. That was the most important thing—secrecy. “What the hell does he care?” Floyd asked himself. “He just wants money. Can’t blame him for that. How the hell can he earn a living down there anyway?”

“Let’s do it.” Floyd walked in the direction the Indian pointed. Without a word, Charley followed.

The shadow of a hawk passed over. Automatically, both men looked up and watched the bird float easily against the blue of the sky.

“Long way,” Charley grunted.

It wasn’t an easy hike. Riding raw-boned and uneven gaited nag had been harder. By the time they arrived at the parking lot the sun was setting.

“You make it down alright?” Floyd asked as he pocketed the keys to the battered Dodge.

“Horses know way, Mr. Jones.”

Floyd gave a quick wave in response as the Indian headed over the cliff’s edge and down into the Canyon.

Floyd wondered if all Indians were this laconic. Certainly it had seemed so when he’d made that first visit. “Herb Jones,” he’d introduced himself—an easy alias to remember. “I need a guide, somebody with a couple of horses and willing to do some hard riding for some good money.”

That had been in the little tribal store. “As good a place as any,” he thought. And he had been right; the plump storeowner’s cousin was just the man. Now Floyd figured everyone in Supai were cousins. Not that it mattered, just as long as this one kept his mouth shut.

It took three more trips to work out the details. “A consultation,” he explained to his colleagues at the hospital on two of the occasions—not elaborating, not needing to. “Just getting away with Bernice” was the reason he used the other times. Each time, he had shown just a bit more tremor, a bit more hesitancy of gait, a bit more involuntary movement of thumb and forefinger. As careful planning as ever went into an operation. After all, this was his life, and Floyd was determined that the patient should survive.

 *****

 Ironic, much as he hated the hospital administrators, Floyd wanted to thank Earl, the chief operations officer.

“Great pictures,” he’d commented two years earlier when Earl and his wife had returned from their trip. Just an automated response; he didn’t mean it. Dr. Floyd Murchison had no interest in nature, camping, or especially white water rafting.

But it had been Earl’s pictures, stuck in the back of his mind that gave Floyd the idea.

“Remember that trip you and Francine took? To the Canyon wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. What about it?”

“You still got the pictures?”

“Of course. Why?”

“Bernice and I were thinking. You know, I’m thinking of retiring. Well, we figured we’d do some traveling. She remembered my mentioning your photos and suggested. … If you don’t mind.”

“No, of course. I’ll make you a copy.”

“No, no. Why don’t you guys come for dinner, bring them with you, and you can tell us all the details.”

Details: good planning required details. A doctor didn’t cut into somebody’s head until he had planned every move. He wasn’t going to have a phony death until he had just the right method. Not until the new life policy was fully vested—eighteen months before the double indemnity for accidental death clause took effect. Two years before suicide would be covered.

So many details to be arranged: Fake passports and papers, booking the tour, finding the right Indian—knowledgeable of the terrain, willing to do what was needed for a reasonable price, able to provide the horses—buying the old car and putting it in Charley Chained Horse’s name, having the Indian drive it.

“Look like Indian car,” Charley said when they bought the green junk heap in Flagstaff.

That was true enough. Nobody would notice the junk-heap sitting in the middle of the tribal lot high above the Canyon. It would be waiting for its owner to come up from the rez. For what—a monthly trip to the supermarkets or maybe a visit to a family member who had moved out of the Canyon.

“You want me get tickets?” Charley asked, incredulous at the next instruction.

“Don’t worry. I’ll pay the fines. Nothing big. Speeding. Couple of parking violations in Flagstaff or Prescott, enough to show it’s your car.

The trip had to be booked. Then calling Charley with the dates. That was one of the most difficult tasks.

“Not much service on rez,” Charley explained.

“Charley.”

“Yes, Mr. Jones.”

“Do me a favor. Go up and check the car. Make sure it’s ready to go. I have a long trip.”

“Where go?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just make sure the tires are good, the battery, that there’s gas.”

“Sure. You pay; you boss. Fifty dollars.”

“Fine. Another fifty—it didn’t matter?

Floyd made one last quick trip to drop a suitcase and carryall in the car’s trunk. His cover this time, an appointment with a neurologist in Phoenix. Bernice, following instructions, let that tidbit slip at her bridge club.

The plan was ready to go operational.

 *****

 “Suicide? Absolutely not!” Bernice Murchison said. “Parkinson’s or no, Floyd and I had a good life ahead of us.”

Even if the insurance company rejected the accidental death claim, there would be ten million to add to the millions already safely in her name. And, with double indemnity, make that twenty million.

Floyd had a plan. He always had a plan, seldom one that involved what she wanted. Rio? What about her life, her career, her thinking about running for office? No matter to Floyd.

Still, Bernice had to admit it: Floyd’s plan was excellent. Planning was one of his great strengths. Once he decided it was time to get out of medicine, he had created a game plan worthy of a five star general.

“It used to be fun,” he complained. “I loved the O.R., but now? Now, it’s all paperwork and dealing with administrators. Who do they think saves people—somebody with a clipboard or me with my knife.”

She wasn’t sure if she believed him. It didn’t matter. Bernice always made believe she bought Floyd’s lies. Why not? Their marriage had been built on lies for years. The great man: she knew better. Bernice knew it all, from the cheating in medical school to the tax evasion, to the nurses he balled in the recovery room.

Would his colleagues believe it? Maybe. But the insurance company? Too obvious; there would be questions. No, better to develop symptoms. Easy enough for a doctor. Getting his friend in Phoenix to write the prescriptions. Just dump the pills and order more.

“Where will you get a passport?” Bernice asked.

Floyd laughed. “Didn’t I save Stankovitch’s kid? Why save the goddamned kid of a Russian Mafia don if you don’t get something in return.

Two weeks later, Floyd waved the documents in front of her. “Meet Morris James Finklestein.

“You’ll retire right off, soon as the semester ends. The grieving widow,” Floyd reviewed the plan. “Of course you’ll take a couple of trips…you know, to forget. Places on our list. Then you meet a man in Rio. A whirlwind romance, and you’ll be Mrs. Morris Finklestein.”

“Sure,” Bernice said, her tone flat.

Floyd kissed Bernice quickly on the lips. That was all she ever got, a quick kiss. At least Sammy gave her more than that.

Sammy only met Floyd once; that had been enough. He, too, could not imagine the great doctor sitting around on the Copacabana Beach, each morning walking the promenade, sipping coffee and watching the endless waves of the Atlantic. “Well, you’d know better than me, Love, but I think you’re right. He isn’t a man for retirement.”

“No, but he is a man for getting what he wants. Whatever the hell that might be.”

They both chuckled.

Sammy put down his beer and rested his left hand on her right knee. “It’ll work out.”

Sammy was the great consolation in Bernice’s life. First her graduate assistant, then her colleague. At some point their liking had become friendship and then slipped into an affair—not love but a liaison that had lasted twenty-seven years.

“Why don’t you find somebody?” she asked more than once.

“I’m waiting for the right woman.”

“How are you going to find her if you don’t look?”

And Sammy’s inevitable reply. “I already found her. Now, I’m waiting for her to dump her husband and come away with me.”

“Away, where?” Bernice would ask as she kissed his ears and neck.

“To the South of France.”

Bernice would laugh and ask if he liked topless beaches.

“Only with the right bottom,” he would answer.

It was their routine. Nothing would come of it. Just one of those little dances couples do.

“Copacabana? Brazil? What the hell am I supposed to do?” Sammy seldom showed irritation. He was willing to wait and wait some more. Twenty-seven years and more to come. But for Bernice to leave—to go off with Floyd: that he could not accept.

“I wish I could ask Floyd; he’d figure it out.” Bernice was sorry as soon as the words left her mouth. Making light of it. What was she thinking? Giving up Sammy would be one of the hardest things.

 *****

 Floyd sold the old car—no questions asked—in Juarez, took a bus to airport; and traveling under the name Brian Louis York was soon in Mexico City. “What the hell, another twenty grand for a set of throwaway documents,” he had thought when Stankovitch suggested it.

“Always a good idea, Doc, just in case somebody spots you. Then that guy disappears. Easy.”

Brian York, Saint Louis businessman, took a cab to a decent hotel, where he spent the night—but not really.

Later that evening, all according to plan, Morris James Finklestein boarded his flight for Rio. Everything executed with operating room precision.

Even though he knew it would take months for the insurance to come through. Floyd, unable to restrict his lifestyle, had almost run out of his available money by the time Bernice was due to join him in Rio. Only twenty thousand American left in the carryall he had brought with him. It bothered him that he hadn’t left himself more cash.

That was the first inkling Floyd had that things might go wrong. The second was the phone call he made to Bernice’s office at the university.

“What do you mean she no longer works there?” The term was not yet over. Why would she draw attention by leaving early? Had something gone terribly wrong?

Bernice had no problems at all. Now officially a widow, the newlywed and her Sammy were on their honeymoon. The Mediterranean was beautiful that time of year.

“There is nothing like a good plan,” she said as Sammy ogled the topless women on the beach in Cannes.

 

Lover of life’s ironies, Ken Weene also loves white water rafting and Arizona. His novels including the soon to be released “Broody New Englander,” are published by All Things That Matter Press. In addition to writing, Ken co-hosts It Matters Radio ( http://www.itmattersradio.com ) You can find Ken’s books at http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1406397310&sr=1-1

Spinoza and Me by Kenneth Weene

spinoza

It was Tuesday afternoons, two-fifteen almost every Tuesday for the school year—for my seventh grade school year. They would leave—dismissed early from school to attend religious instruction. Most, the vast majority of my classmates would leave to learn about God, to learn about faith, to learn about dogma. Almost universally they were Catholics. The city in which I grew up was almost entirely Catholic, half of Irish background and half of Italian, ­ but all Catholic and all scheduled for confirmation.

Off our classmates would go in mass exodus, and we, a small number, would huddle in our respective homerooms while being watched, as questionable minorities must be.

The remainder of the school day was designated a period for “guidance and moral education.” We were given neither guidance nor moral education. Instead, we huddled in our minority and did homework. My homeroom teacher taught English so we did English homework. Next door was a social studies teacher. His minority worked on geography and memorized facts about our city, Somerville, our county, Middlesex, and our commonwealth, Massachusetts. On the other side of our room was a math teacher; there fractions and equations held sway. Therein lay one of the basic moral lessons of my youth: free will may exist, but free choice does not.

So we, in our suspicious minority status, sat quietly and tried to appear compliant – to appear as a well-disciplined and obedient unity. There was only one problem: we were not a unity. For within our small number there was yet another division, another even smaller minority, a minority of one, of me, a Jew. The Catholics were gone; the Protestants—undifferentiated from the vantage point of the Vatican—had become the majority. I, I alone, was left to be different. “Hebe,” “Kike,” “Shylock”: I heard all those epithets and more while growing up; but the worst was “Jewww” pronounced with hash J and drawn-out W—pejorative in its correctness. Make no doubt about it; I was the hated “Jewww,” the killer of Christ, wearer of devils’ horns, killer of Christian children and consumer of their blood, ah, blood-libeled matzoth.

It was not easy being a Jew in that classroom, in that school, in that city. There had been a time when the numbers had been different. If Jews had never been the majority, they had once been a serious minority, but that had changed. Most had moved away, across Boston to Brookline and Newton a the other end of the transit system. Only the temple remained to let the world know that they, a number of them—us—had once lived there. It was a solid building of granite and cement, a building as substantial as one of the many churches that serviced the rest of the community.

But, inside, within the people, within what survived of the congregation, little substance remained. Commitment had gone with the members to those newer and wealthier communities. A few stragglers, a few professional men whose careers required them to stay, a few old people with neither the means nor the will to move: this was the congregation. And, it was led by a rabbi whose lack of standing was consistent with the temple’s ever diminishing stature.

Leo Shubow had nothing to recommend him. He wasn’t particularly learned, he lacked charisma, he spoke poorly, and, just to make things worse, he sprayed spittle with every sibilant. There were those who opined that Rabbi Shubow would not even had merited our small congregation were it not for his brother, a well-known and highly respected rabbi who not only led but also dominated one of the most important temples in all of Greater Boston. This successful rabbi had demanded a congregation for his inadequate sibling; presumably it had been decided that he could do the least harm in our already failed flock.

My father, one of those professional men who felt that they needed to stay in Somerville, insisted my brother and I attend some religious education. For their part neither of our parents ever went to the temple except for those rare but socially mandatory bar mitzvahs and weddings. Very few adults did go to temple. At most services the required minyan was a last minute miracle.

It was probably just as well that almost no adults attended services; Rabbi Shubow had only two topics on which he could comfortably sermonize:

The first was the need to support the just-born nation of Israel. He would particularly exhort us to give coins to plant trees there. Presumably he thought it would be too political to ask us to help buy weapons for the fledgling Israeli army. Nevertheless, underlying our understanding of the importance of those trees was our dread of the incomprehensible hatred that had become the irresistible tide of the holocaust. Even in our small community, each of us in some way was connected to the dead of Europe and to the precious saved—that minority who had survived the camps—and to those among them who were trying to make a new home—a refuge—for themselves in Eretz Israel.

His second topic had nothing discernible to do with Israel or Judaism. He was passionate about the threat of icebergs in the North Atlantic. I never learned if he had lost somebody to an iceberg-related sinking or had simply been traumatized as a very small boy by the end of the Titanic. Whatever the reason, he would speak at length, poorly, but at length, about the need for a better warning system to protect sailors.

His preoccupation seemed somewhat silly to those of us who bothered to think about those icebergs. The world was still reeling from the war. Oceans of blood had been spilled. Even if one were to think of death in the North Atlantic, it made more sense to focus on the torpedoes of the Nazis than on the icebergs breaking away from Greenland and Iceland.

I would probably have no adult thought of Leo Shubow were it not for a book that he suggested I read. That year, that year of confirmation, I read the book he had suggested. It wasn’t a very sophisticated book, but it did raise an interesting question. Could one be a bad Jew and still be a great Jew? Felix Mendelssohn, the great composer, was one example. Shabbetai Zvi, the false messiah, was another. But, the most important example was Baruch de Spinoza.

That book didn’t teach me much about Spinoza, the brilliant Sephardic Jew who had been expected to become an important rabbi but who, instead, was perceived by his community as doubting the very existence of God. Still trying to come to grips with the Inquisition that had driven them from Spain and that had killed so many of their fellow religionists, the Sephardic community in Holland was deeply religious, strongly observant, and extremely intellectual. Spinoza’s perceived apostasy was an outrage.

Ostracized and (very unusually for a Jew) excommunicated, he had made his living as a grinder of lenses, some of the best lenses available in Holland. He had also written brilliantly in his attempts to understand whatever he could of the essential nature of the world and to define mankind’s ethical obligations. Although he had remained outside the Jewish fold, Spinoza had become the spiritual father of the modern age. His simple abode was to become a place of pilgrimage for modern thinkers, perhaps most notably Einstein, who stopped there during his flight from Europe to America – his escape from the Nazis.

Spinoza ground lenses, at that time one of the purest mathematical activities. Using mathematical formulae, light could be forced into orderly behavior. Einstein went beyond that; he applied mathematics to the understanding of light and to the fundamental physical nature of the world. Shubow was not so brilliant. He could only worry about seeing the physical dangers in the natural world, but he, like Spinoza and Einstein, understood that the physical world could be known, that the dangers inherent in it could be understood and perhaps overcome.

Precision of mathematical and scientific thinking could give mankind control over nature. It was not necessary to invoke God, nor was it meaningful to think of God as intervening in that nature—given by Him or perhaps more properly synonymous with Him. To appreciate that order, to truly appreciate it, was to love God, to be, in Spinoza’s phrase, intoxicated with God.

But, mankind is often more intoxicated with itself than with God. It is our nature that we see threat in the mirror of existence and turn on our fellow humans over and over again. Human nature is not so predictable nor so beautiful. It turns us against minorities and thereby against ourselves. We may call it prejudice and hatred, for my part I call it Evil.

The Inquisition was rooted in Evil as was the Holocaust. There was Evil in that classroom, too. Sitting there on those Tuesday afternoons so acutely aware of being a minority within a minority I was at once both a victim of that Evil and a participant in it.

Rabbi Shubow had lived with enough Evil to appreciate the goal of goodness—to understand nature and use that knowledge to save man. Now I am older. I have lived with enough Evil to wonder if man is worth saving. And I have lived with enough of mankind to wonder if mankind can save itself. Perhaps it is enough to appreciate human nature, to study the psychological world, and to accept that our species may well reach its own self-doomed end.

There is creation, there is nature, and there is man. For all these there is order, that most divine of all possibilities. Order exists. I revel in that fact and I am too intoxicated with God to think of praying for heavenly intervention.

 

In addition to the great honor of being a member and editor of The Write Room Blog, Ken Weene writes short stories, poetry, and novels. You can learn more about his writing at http://www.kennethweene.com and you can listen to his ideas on It Matters Radio, which is proud to co-host at http://www.itmattersradio.com/ Ken would like to thank the wonderful Deb Harris of All Things That Matter Press for her editorial help with this piece.

The ripeness of the fruit by Kenneth Weene

Afghan goatherd

Badria wakes. The sun is not yet up. The cock has not yet called. Perhaps it was the hoot of loons, the stirring of goats in the barn, the restless wandering of the wind among the budding cherry trees.

“Does the wind taste the tart ripeness of the fruit?” she wonders.

She bends to the fire. Charcoal is dear and they have little. Badria tries to ignore the cold of her hands, the chill that sneaks beneath her heaviest robe. The fire must be used to heat water for Farzam’s tea, to heat the rice for his breakfast. For Badria’s part, cold water will do; whatever warmth lays hidden in yesterday’s rice pot will suffice. But Farzam’s tea…

“Where does the winter go?” she asks herself. “When the earth comes back to life? When the nights again are warm and the days glow with heat and desire.”

Perhaps the teacher who has come to the village knows the answer to such questions. She would ask him if allowed, but Badria is not allowed. Women do not speak to men—not even to teachers. Particularly not to teachers. It is written. That is enough.

The spark catches. The handful of straw flares. A corner of the rich charcoal smolders. While the red heat spreads, she fetches water from the well. The water is clear and cold. She uses some to wash her face. The hem of her garment serves as washcloth. As Badria walks, the wet corner clings to her leg.

She giggles. Sensation is enough to bring laughter or tears. Badria’s body sings. It is the song of life. How could it be otherwise, even at eleven years she is woman. Even at eleven years the child within her blooms.

It is written. That is enough.

Farzam will soon wake. “Where is my tea?” he will bellow. She will have it ready. He will be pleased. He will not hit her. He will not curse her father for a bad deal. He will not demand the three goats back. She will be worth the price.

Afghan girl

The baby inside kicks. Badria smiles with a tenderness she does not understand.

If it is a boy, Farzam will be pleased. Perhaps he will send her father another kid. Perhaps… Perhaps.

Water is poured into the old metal pot and placed on the fire. Soon she will add the leaves. Before he drinks, Farzam will spoon in sugar from the tin tucked on the highest shelf.

A few drops of water are added to a portion of rice. That too must be warmed.

Badria uses her right hand to dig some rice from the pot and stuffs it into her own mouth. She is hungry. It seems that she is always hungry. Perhaps it is that she eats for two. Perhaps it is that there is less food for her here as wife than there had been as daughter in her father’s home.

She visualizes that home. She sees her father, turbaned, sitting by the fire, smoking a cigarette. She can almost smell the tobacco, it is Turkish and strong. “How strange,” she thinks, “I cannot remember my mother.”

Will the child Badria carries remember her? The question makes her weep.

Badria is weeping when Farzam gets up. She weeps when she hands him his cup of tea and the tin of sugar. She weeps when she hands him the bowl of warm rice. She is weeping as he warms his hands at the remains of the charcoal fire. She weeps when he tells her, “You must give me a son or I will send you back to your father.”

It is written. That is enough.

Badria weeps. She knows she will laugh again.

 

Besides helping to found and edit The Write Room Blog, Ken Weene co-hosts It Matters Radio, a weekly Internet Radio Show (http://www.itmattersradio.com/ ) and writes poetry, short fiction, and novels. As a writer, Ken is particularly interest in exploring differing voices and cultures. The ripeness of the fruit is part of that exploration. You can learn more about Ken at http://www.kennethweene.com.