Tuesday, May 24, 2011

M&R: Desperation

“I took the only course that desperation suggested and that of course was the wrong one.” –Casanova-

Roxanne looked up from her book, laughing silently at her “dear friend”. That’s how Jacque Casanova referred to his future readers two hundred years ago. She looked up into the handsome face of a young man returning her smile. He took that as an invitation and sat down on the bench in the airport waiting room one seat away from her.

Roxanne folded the collector-edition volume shut in her lap and scooted up a bit in her seat in anticipation of a conversation.

“Picking up or headed out?” she asked with a smile and dancing, painted eyebrows.

“I’m picking up a couple of new guys. I work on the Coast Guard Cutter “Anacapa”. You?”

“I’m picking up my sister. We’re opening our family cabin up the Stikine before everyone else gets here.”

The public address system announced that flight 65 should be landing at James A. Johnson shortly. Roxanne took the interruption to study her bench mate. The coastie struck her as a handsome young man, maybe in his early thirties. His short hair wasn’t quite the shade to be called “sandy” nor as red as as her own. The word “ginger” came to mind. He sat in profile, so she could see his tan face, light blue eyes, shortened chin and dreamy grin.

“You’ve got a smile that won’t stop, dearie. What’s up?” she asked as the announcement ended.

Chris, she’d discover later that his name was Chris, blushed, then turned his face more fully to the bright eyed, stylish, big bosomed woman he suspected was old enough to be his mother.

He leaned closer and announced, “I’ve been made an officer over in Sitka.”

Roxanne slapped her hands together as though in prayer and clapped the fingers while beaming with happiness. “Congratulations! Sitka is one of the prettiest places in the Southeast!”

Chris accepted her congratulations with a shake of his head in disbelief at his great good fortune.

“Oh!” she added hurriedly. “And congratulations on becoming an officer.”

They discussed the high cost and low availability of housing in Sitka, the attitude of his teenage children about the move and the difficulty of flying in and out of the primary town on Baranof Island. As they spoke the sun, rarely seen during the spring in the Alexander Archipelago continued his track just barely above Raven’s Roost Ridge. At this angle the sun’s rays blasted across the single runway, shot under the building’s overhang and filled the little airport waiting area with warmth and sunlight. As they spoke, Roxanne absently rubbed her chin in some subtle fascination over the fact that Chris, unlike her husband and brother-in-law, did not have a dimple in his unshaven chin.

The jet, flying low, screamed by. This was the signal for the local folks of banner-hung Petersburg to head to the airport. It would take the jet a while to taxi back to the terminal and deplane the passengers. Roxanne was confident one of them would give her and her sister a ride to where their boat was tied up.

“You are still beaming! Is this officer thing a surprise?”

“It sure is, if you know how far I’ve come.”

With a nod of her head and weep of her open upturned right hand, she ushered in his apparently oft-told tale. He told of good parents, a good family and without specifics of his rebellious youth. Roxanne nodded knowingly, thinking of her grandson Deuce. The story led to his dropping out of high school and joining the Coast Guard at seventeen.

Clutching her ample bosom Roxanne asked with a furled brow and lips pursed in woe, “How could your mother sign the papers?”

“Out of desperation, I suppose. I would've gotten in trouble. The Coast Guard was a good fit for me. I got my GED, my education and even…” here he leaned forward conspiratorially, “my masters. It’s all a miracle.” With a big smile on his face, he continued to shake his head in disbelief of his great good fortune.
Roxanne mumbled, “God be praised.” As they, both turned to watch the jet turn off the runway for the terminal. The gathering crowed moved towards the windows to watch their loved ones and neighbors disembark. Chris and Roxanne rose from their bench so their respective people could see them. With passengers lined up to board, other passengers entering the waiting area and with the hubbub of greeting and hugging; Chris and Roxanne lost track of one another. When the room eventually cleared out again, the luggage arrived. Chris and Roxanne met there and swapped name amongst the chaos around the luggage bin.

“How long till you go to Sitka?” Roxanne asked, as her sister slipped away through the throng in search of her suitcases.

“Two months; July.” Chris shouted back above the tumult as he herded his crewmen toward the exit.

She extended her right hand. He took it with his. Her left grasped his right too. “Dearie, it’s been a delight… Oh, give me a hug! Have a wonderful time in Sitka!”

They departed one another’s embrace. Roxanne’s sister wasn’t there for most of the conversation and couldn’t follow it when she was there due to the noise. Besides, Roxanne hugging perfect strangers is perfectly routine. However, as they hurried outside into the morning sunshine trying to flag down a friend for a ride, Roxanne’s sister saw tears in those emerald eyes.

“Roxanne? What’s wrong?”

“Oh, I am just desperate to tell you a wonderful story, later…”

Sunday, May 8, 2011

M&R: A Single Tear

“They are not going to be late.” John assured everyone in reference to the bride and matron-of-honor and then blessed them with the same benign smile Galenda used when reassuring the munchkins that the witched witch of the west was gone. “And sorry boys we can’t go up the Miraculous Staircase. We are too big; too tall, too muscular.” Both his teenage sons smiled in response and nodded in acquiesce. At which point John standing tall to get everyone‘s attention turned not to Stan’s grown daughters, nor back to his two beloved boys, but rather to his 10 year old stepson. “Puck, I need you to be in charge. When the music starts line everyone up and get them marching down the aisle as we practiced. Your Uncle Stan and I have to go up to the altar. ”

The pleasant smiling groom led his best-man along the right side of the chapel under the Stations of the Cross. The walked on their toes to lighten the stoop of John’s boots wouldn’t disturb the few worshippers. The walls stood talk and white with a sharp at the apex of the ceiling. Sort of a French style interior in sharp contrast to the Mission-style exterior done in adobe.

They came to the place before the altar and greeted the pastor. The young
man was fresh from the seminary at Strasburg. It was his first wedding.
He spoke neither of the local languages.

All the tourists buzzed excitedly about a wedding when they saw the handsome groom and best man take their places. Stan with his impossibly wide shoulders, longish black hair, dazzling green eyes, and today, saintly smile looked every bit the “radiant” groom. They wore charcoal gray pinstriped suits with tails, gray cummerbunds and white handkerchief to match their ruffled shirts. John tied both their tuxedo ties. John was just as tall as stand; 6’1” but with eyes of blue and auburn locks and a matching moustache. They wore boots for John’s sake, though both preferred to be barefoot.

John hid his cell phone in his cupped hand and cuff of his shirt. He looked at it furtively when Stan’s attention drifted to the screen behind the altar and the statue of “La Reina” who’d lead the Bloodless Re-conquest of the region.

“Nervous?” John asked out of concern and for something to say. He’d switched to English.

A knowing smile spread across Stan’s fair complexion, which he kindly didn’t let his worried friend see. “No, everything will be fine. She’s with Maeve.”

As sigh of relief escaped John, then he did a double take at his buddy. “Wish we’d invited your distant relatives?”

Stan glanced around them. The few invited guests sat on the bride’s side. Even then they were mostly John and Maeve’s relatives. “No…”

John studied the side of Stan’s face, saw him gulp as a thought crossed his furled brow. “Do you really think my mom and Nana are looking down on us.” Stan asked with hope, but no emotion.

“I am sure they are.” whispered back the church-going Lutheran at his side. Suddenly the two men stared at the floor, sheepish grins began to spread across their faces, finally John broke the silence by nudging Stan in the ribs and saying out loud what they were both thinking. “and I pray your father is not looking up at us!”

The both laughed freely, much to the delight of the tourists. It was the first time the worshippers looked up to see them standing at the altar. As Stan went back to pleasant reminiscences of his departed loved ones, John flipped open his black heavy duty cell phone, scrolled to his wife’s image and called her.

His wife, Maeve, dressed in a vintage floral evening gown disdainfully picked at the fabric flowing over her knees. she awaited the inevitable call. Floral evening gowns of any age were not her attire of choice. But it was Roxanne’s (fifth ) wedding so she got to chose the bridesmaid’s dresses. She held Roxanne’s right hand

Roxanne sat next to her fidgeting, fluffing her gown and fanning her face in hopes that she could keep her mascara from running. The red-head’s cheeks were flush and green eyes glistened with emotion.

The phone rang Maeve answered making it clear that she wouldn’t be handing it to Roxanne, spoke with her husband, reassured him and hung up.

“Dearie, is Stan worried that we’ll be late?” queried the bride with lips rounded in woe.

“No my husband says he’s perfectly confident we will arrive on cue.”

“That’s because I’m with you.” Roxanne gushed, patting her best friend on the knee affectionately. “Is he mad?”

“No.” Maeve assured, patting her right hand with her own. “You know he never gets angry. John’s never seen him get angry and Nana told my husband that she’d only seen Stan get angry once in his entire life.”

“That’s true. He‘s perfect for me. ” Roxanne giggled in relief with a nod of her piled up ringlets. Then with a laugh shook her head in disbelief that she’d finally found such a man. “Tell me a funny story.”

As though expecting such a request Maeve began. “During my first marriage…”

Roxanne started. They never discussed Maeve first marriage and the loss of her daughters. The only time she’d ever seen Maeve cry was once, the first time she’d ever confided that terrible story. She turned and looked intently at Maeve’s pleasant smile.

“My brother-in-law and his wife lived in the valley with a large back yard. One of their cats birthed a litter of kittens and they could not find homes for them. So, the man of the house announced they were going to keep them. In that family the wives didn’t have much say. (Well, at least until I came along.) So, my sister-in-law said he could keep them, but that they’d have to be outside cats. They had three small children. So each day he’d fill up a big bowl of cat food on the back porch. The neighbor cats and feral cats started joining his and I don’t think he ever had his cats fixed. I remember being there once at feeding time. He carried a big bag of food out into the middle of the back yard and dumped it on the ground. I recall cats flying over the cinderblock wall and joining the feed frenzy. There were cats of all kinds everywhere. I don’t recall if they were feeding them 50lbs of food a day or whether it was 50 cats they were feeding.” Maeve finished with a shrug of her shoulders and up turned palms.

“How awful! They must have been spending a fortune. What happen?”

“Well, you can imagine my sister-in-law was beside herself. I felt so sorry for her.”

Roxanne nodded in rampant agreement.

“One day I stopped by with a gift for the children; a full grown German Shepherd.”

Roxanne laughed so hard the limousine driver became concerned.

When John got off the phone, the pastor before the white washed, gold trimmed altar of the Chapel of Loreto asked if everything was okay. John assured him everything was fine. Out of the corner of John’s eye he say another blob of tar sticking to Stan’s jacket and discreetly tried to pick it off with his finger nails.

“You are the only person I know that can get hit in the head by a half empty 5 gallon bucket of tar and not be fazed at all.”

“If the construction workers let one slip on my bride…

“My wife will…”

Both men grimaced at what could happen in Maeve (or Roxanne) was struck with refuge from the fifth story of the neighboring hotel.

“Feeling okay?”


“Let me see.” John said as he turned his best friend’s head by his dimpled chin and looked for pupil differentiation; a sure sign of concussion. He shrugged when he saw nothing. Actually, in all their adventures as bachelors he’d never seen Stan get hurt much less bleed.

The music began and they turned to watch the groomsmen and bridesmaids (their respective children ) stroll arm and arm down the aisle.

“There’s a sign of things to come.” John whispered in Latin, a language none of their children spoke.

When Puck finally arrived at his position before the altar he assured his step-father and “Uncle Stan” that’s he’d spoken to the policeman out front blocking the street. Hotel management shut down the re-tarring effort. Between the idle workmen and gawking tourists there was quite the crowd awaiting the bride before the chapel. Stan’s daughter hadn’t been party to conversation, so John whispered it to them across the aisle as Stan gazed happily upon the whole scene.

Earlier in the day, the newly ordained man from Abasace and Lorraine had witnessed the accident. When he discovered that the handsome young ladies spoke French, he asked if their father was okay. Then asked if he was happy. They assured the pastor he was physically alright and was the happiest he‘d ever been in his life. They knew because John had told them so. Now with them all standing before the altar the young pastor observed aloud that Stan must be made have a head of steel with a heart of stone to be so calm and nonplussed about the absence of his bride. An awkward silence fell upon the wedding party with the seminarians harsh words.

In self-defense Stan quoted “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”

“No!” responded his daughters in unison.

John’s sons burst into laughter and John’s mouth hung open in shock that his friend could quote Shakespeare. The pastor was baffled by the whole English conversation. Before anyone could translate the bridal march began. Everyone in the pews stood.

Meanwhile Maeve had dabbed away Roxanne’s laughter generated tears. The big-bosomed bride took a deep breathe and with a sigh announced. “I really feel like I have it right this time.”

There was something otherworldly in the way she stated it. A tone of confidence and serenity that Maeve rarely heard in her best friend’s loud voice. Roxanne gazed blissfully at the earth tone buildings along the narrow winding street as they passed.

Maeve spoke softly so as not to break the spell. “We are all going to have a great future together.”

An ephemeral light still lit Roxanne’s glowing features. “And how do you know about our future, dearie?” she asked innocently.

“My husband has a little voice…”

“1 Kings 19:12” Roxanne offered in way of assurance.

“John says it is his guardian angel. Who he’s somewhat arbitrarily named “Mark”! That is how I know about the future. As to your future husband; I believe, I know only two things for sure about Stan; his friend ship for my husband and his adoration of you.”

Roxanne seemed to like the idea of adoration; she looked like she was going to burst with happiness. “And you, how do you like Stan?”

“Oh, I like Stan just fine. We have that whole orphaned at an early age in common. It’s made us tough as nails.” Maeve raised a clenched fist in emphasis.

Roxanne glanced mischievously at her best friend. Behind a gloved hand she reminded Maeve of several embarrassing moments that Maeve hadn’t been all that hard hearted. She kept playing it up until Maeve burst into giggles.

“Okay, okay. It’s made him tough as nails.”

The car pulled to a stop. Maeve pushed the door open without waiting for the chauffer. They crossed the hard-packed earth beneath he ancient cottonwood and ran up the first two of seven steps before the gathered crowd below and those waiting above noticed. That’s when the shouts of recognition began. Maeve and Roxanne stopped before the great double doors, spun in unison, curtsied to the crowd and pushed the door open. The crowd roared. Blinding afternoon summer sun burst into the chapel. Their guests gasped. The church bells began to ring. Whistling and clanging came from above. The crowd began screaming its joy. Roxanne saw only the man of her dream. Only John could hear the affect she had on Stan’s hard heart. Only Maeve could see on his cheek the single tear.