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Keeping Up With the Jones’ January 8, 2016

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Keeping up with the Jones’

The Daily Post prompt for today inspired me to think about the one luxury thing I would love to have but can’t afford.  I’d like a full-ride college scholarship for my kids, including tuition, books, housing and meals, at the college of their choice.

There are a lot of other very practical things I’d like, but if I had to pick just one that would be it.  If I didn’t have to pick one, I have a whole list: First, I need some dental work.  The new dentist gave me an outrageous price tag to fix my teeth after disparaging my former dentist for their outrageous price tags.  And that was before the teeth cracked after the 40 year-old crappy fillings fell out.  Best practice would be implants, but that’s a lot of cash.  Maybe I’ll just have them extracted.

I could afford to help a lot of people struggling more than me if I won the lottery.  I’m not extravagant, and I can’t picture that really changing.  I find the whole famous spending money because one can far too incredibly boring.  I’d just help out at the local food pantry and homeless shelters I think.  My friend Deon wrote about his wish list here, and frankly, if I don’t win, I hope he does.  I think he’d probably foot the bill for my teeth, it’s part of why we’ve hit it off, aside from being ideologically very close. Almost like we’re brothers, although I only have brothers-in-law.  He contrasted practical spending and investing vs. having stupid money and being stupid with it.

The PowerBall Lottery is currently sitting at $700 Million, which is a lot more than the meager $42 Million I frequently daydream about.  I’ve read about people who won fabulous jackpots and were stupid with what they won.  On the news today I was not really paying attention because I had to get out the door and get to work, but I thought they said some guy won a big prize and then got arrested for dealing drugs.  I hope I heard that wrong, but there are a lot of idiots in the world.  Sadly, I’m afraid I heard it right.

It’s been suggested that a lot of money and liberty only increases how bad a person is, and if the drug dealer and that Gentleman’s Club Church Guy are case in point it may be true.  But maybe it could increase how good a person is, by increasing their sphere of influence.   Maybe there’s one noble person out there who can win, instead of another Jack Whittaker of West Virginia.  I for one would love to see that.

Or even better, be that.  That is, if I were more noble.

I have no concept, not to mention any plan for how to spend $700M.  I only figured out the first $42M.  But I’d love to dream, from the warmth and nitrous oxide filled micro-atmosphere of the implant surgeon’s chair, and start to figure it out. Here’s my favorite song full of daydreams about the lottery, by the awesome Lin Manuel Miranda from his brilliant musical, “In the Heights.”

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Missing: One Left Sock January 26, 2015

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It’s just possible that somewhere, hidden, are all the things I have lost in my life.  I have lost socks, mittens, gloves, collectibles, toys, books, coats, that important piece of whatever it was so I couldn’t reassemble whatever it was I had taken apart, etc.  Fishing poles.  Knives.  Spoons.  Keys.  My favorite sweater.  My favorite T Shirt and pair of blue jeans.  I guess that means I’m not so different from anyone else.  Who hasn’t lost anything, ever?     If I had stalkers and fans I would blame them, and ask for some of it to be returned.  Keep the stuff I don’t use, stuff that’s worn out or too small for me, or the stuff I’ve already replaced.

I suspect my mom may have quietly burned the holey jeans and tshirt I revered beyond the “e,” and perhaps the sweater or pants on the mending table ended up in the trash as well, after the third or fourth repair.

I’ve lost significant things.  Money.  Education opportunities.  Job opportunities.  Connections with people I care about.  These weren’t entirely my fault, although to a degree I guess I was responsible.

Today I confess, I like having neat fingernails.  I used to bite them, and leave them with the dirt until whenever they came clean.  At least I used to like washing dishes, which by happy coincidence, usually left them pretty clean.  I still like to wash the dishes.  I’ve come a long way.  If you weren’t already going to revoke my man-card because I like a clean kitchen, you might when you read this:

I like to cut my nails.  I like to shape and file them, and to smooth them with an emery board.  And I know what a cuticle cutter and spoon are.  It’s her fault.  I don’t really obsess over shaving, or clothes, or anything.  But my nails bug me when they’re not properly taken care of.  My wife started me on the road to that specific grooming habit, and here I am.  When I was in High School, I needed short nails to play my viola, so when they got clicky, I’d bite them short.  I quit doing that, somewhere between college and marriage.  And sometime between engagement and marriage, I got in the habits of filing and smoothing my fingernails, and then, trimming the rough edges of my cuticles. The problem is, I buy a cuticle tool and it disappears within a week.  Somewhere in the dark regions of the bathroom closet, somewhere buried under the carpet of the house, somewhere tucked irresponsibly in a junk drawer or a pen jar, somewhere in the black hole beside the one that holds the missing left socks, are all my cuticle tools.  I just want one.  I’ve bought whole sets of nail care tools and danged if the cuticle tool disappears from the closet where I hid the whole zipper pouch.  No one claims to have removed it, or moved it.  But it’s gone.

If you’ve never seen a cuticle trimming tool, it’s a kind of heart-shaped tool on a stick, where the top part of the heart, toward the center, is sharpened.  It’s specially designed to smoothly capture the cuticle and neatly cut it, like scissors cut wrapping paper if you get it started and hold and move them right.

I envy people with those neat pegboards with tools hanging.  Some even have the outline of their tools so they know which one goes where.  But if my cuticle trimmer goes missing, what prayer do I have of maintaining such a system?  I’m lucky to find the drill and drill bits (and that thingy you use to tighten the drill bit- I think it’s called a “chuck tightener.”- I’m not even sure what a “chuck” is.) when some next-to-impossible household maintenance project comes along.  If my cuticle cutter is representative of the rest of life, I’d end up with the neat pegboard and the outlines of my missing tools.  And a few missing pegs while we’re at it.

I wish I could just hire “the guy,” for all of that.  Especially plumbing.  But I have learned, because we didn’t hire “the guy,” how to do lots of things.  But without the tool, I can’t do much.  And without the tool I can’t cut  my cuticles.  I don’t even know if, in the modern era of blood-borne pathogen awareness, manicurists are allowed to cut people’s cuticles.  I don’t think I want them to do that for me.  But that means I need it, more often than I need a drill.

I can understand, throw it away if it’s no longer sharp.  Fine.  But put it away, or back where I left it, if it’s still useful.  This weekend I realized that yet another has slipped away into the nail-tool black hole where all of my previous fingernail clippers and cuticle tools have fallen and disappeared forever.

These missing socks and gloves and tools and cuticle trimmers are like bits of my life that I have lost along the way.  Jesus said that he was like a vine-dresser.  If I’m the vine, He said He’d come along and cut away the stuff that was interfering with my spiritual growth, so I could bear fruit in my life.  I’ve lost touch with people.  Old friends don’t call.  Not that I miss some people, but sometimes I wonder what some of them are up to.  High School and college buddies.  Most of them I really liked.  Were they a negative influence on me?  Would I have been a negative influence on them and therefore was I the one who was pruned away?  Are these as replaceable as hat and mitten and socks?  They’re lost, and I feel a bit lost without my old connections.

When I win the lottery, they’ll be coming out of obscurity, I suppose.  But until then I was just a memory for them.  Was it a good memory?  Chess club after school.  Orchestra, and being in the pit for musicals.  I’m married, now, but then, some of those actresses…  Maybe we’d have been a negative influence on each other.  (Don’t kid yourself, MJ, you were a geeky loser, and you still bear most of those traits, says the accuser in my head.  Striking, how much that voice sounds like my sister sometimes.)  Friends in college that I absolutely adored.  They made me laugh, helped me to think, carried me through the doldrum days, helped me to forget the downward cycle that I regularly find myself trapped in.  And while I miss them, I don’t have a big vacuum in my life.  Other people have come along, like replacement gloves, and I’ve cared for them until they moved along and didn’t need me any more.  Or until I didn’t need them any more.  Or they moved a little farther away.  Or I moved.

For those of you (and you know who you are) who were supportive and caring friends in my past, know that I remember and still think fondly of you.  For those of you who gave selflessly to make sure my needs were met, motivated out of Christ’s love, I want you to know that you were God’s very hands to take care of me, and I appreciate you and your effort and sacrifice.  For those of you who turned my head (whether you know it or not), know that I’m glad neither of us gave in to temptation.  It wouldn’t have gone well.  If I turned anyone’s head, I wasn’t aware of it and I’m sorry if I disappointed you or made you sad.  For all of you, I hope God’s best for you, as I believe I have found God’s best for me.  Like the old song says, “somewhere on the other side, there will be an answer.”

I wish I knew how it all fit together, so I would be able to celebrate more how God is providing for me and protecting me.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well-protected.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well provided for either.  But I know in my heart that He does.  I have to trust in His character.

Just as I would celebrate if I ever locate the missing whatever-it-is, I know that God has a special place in His heart for lost people.  When they turn up He celebrates.  I’ve read, you may have read, the kingdom of Heaven is like that.  Celebrating finding that which was lost.  If you are lost, it’s not because God wants you pruned off the Kingdom of Heaven vine.  God wants you to seek Him, and when you do, I believe He’ll find you because He’s a good shepherd.  Once we’re in the right place, having sought out the Kingdom of Heaven, what He does with us is up to Him.  “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  We are his poeima, his artwork, his craftsmanship.  And we are also promised that if He starts something with us, He’ll complete it.

I belong to God.  I believe it with all my heart.  But to be honest, I frequently feel like a tool.  If I’m in God’s tool-shed, I’ve fallen off the pegboard, back into the dust and wood chips behind the workbench, and I don’t know if He’s just found a replacement tool, or if eventually I’ll be put to any good work.  What’s my purpose?  When will I figure it out?  When will God finish the work He’s started in me?  Anyone else feel like a misplaced tool, gathering dust behind the workbench because you’re not where the Craftsman thinks you should be?  I know how the lost get found.  What I haven’t figured out is how the found get found.  I’m better off because I once was lost lost, and now I’m found.  And I’m waiting for those instructions from God, so I can feel like I’ve been found found.

I recall from the Old Testament, two people.  First, Moses.  He spent 40 years, his youth, misplaced in Egypt watching people being mistreated.  He spent 40 more years in Midian, watching sheep.  And then he spent 40 years doing what God had purposed for him, which was to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery.  Joshua, before him, spent years as a boy and a young man, dreaming the dream that he would be important.  Then he spent years after his brothers sold him into slavery, and the time he was in jail because Mrs. Hottie Potiphar didn’t get what she wanted from him, before finally helping a lot of people survive a famine.  How many years before I can work on whatever it is that God has for me?

I have had dreams, big dreams for my life, and they haven’t come true yet.  Anyone else have that dream?  You know, but you’re not sure where or how to start walking toward it, working for it?  Anyone else feel like the substance of things you’ve hoped for is broken, and with it, your faith?  Anyone else feel lost and waiting?

And while you’re looking around, has anyone seen my cuticle trimmer?

Ambitions, Goals, Expectations, Discipline December 24, 2014

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I set out this year to finish writing a novel or two if I could squeeze them in.  I had plenty of time, I guess.  But I don’t have time now, and I’m not going to make it in 2014.  I’ll be closer than I was last year.  I was more than halfway finished with both in the middle of the year.  Time and inspiration both failed me.  So this year, while I did write, and I’m into some interesting spots in both novels, neither one is all that close to being done.  I know what to say, and I know how to say it.  I just have to sit and write.  Sure, I have to research to update just in case the legal codes in one of the stories has updated this year.  And after I finish I’m hoping my lawyer friend will look over the one book just to make sure those parts are at least plausible.  If a lawyer “in whom is no guile” buys it, it’s golden.  If he doesn’t, rewrite.  I’m fortunate that I know one of those.  So what happened this year?

I know some people that build models.  Model cars, model trains, model planes.  They spend hours at it and when they are done they have something that is beautiful, fun, and a colossal waste of time.  Or not.  I know people who play a musical instrument.  They spend hours at it if they are serious, and when all is said and done, they have something that is beautiful, fun, might earn some brief applause, and will certainly waste a colossal amount of their time.  Or not.  I can say “or not” about these hobbyists, because I am one of them.  I do play a musical instrument.  I’m not a virtuoso, but I do all right.  I would like to learn other musical instruments, at or better than my current proficiency level.  Maybe I’d even like to learn a foreign language.

I work full time, and not at being a writer.  If I did work full time at it, I’d need to finish stuff on time.  I’d want to write for all of my blogs every day.  And that would be fun.  Oh, and then I’d need an audience that buys it.  Because, there are bills to pay, and I don’t know how to make money at it at a level that sets me free to do more.  Given a little margin of success, and a wide margin of time and freedom, I might explore that.  So for now I have to readjust and deal with realizing this is a hobby and not a career.  My wife would applaud, and I would make evil faces at the noise and the sentiment.  For all my Ambitions, Goals, Expectations and Discipline, all I’ve done this year is A-G-E-D.  Not that I’ve completely given up on my dream of finishing off these monsters, but that my time is limited between what must be done and what I want to do.  The one squeezes out the other a lot.  And then, there’s inspiration, another animal I wish I could at least cage, and let out on my leash when I’m ready to take it for a walk.  Alas, that animal is wild, not in my cage, and very adept at hiding.

What I think I have is a heart problem.  My heart isn’t in it for the reasons that professional people do it.  I play my viola for the joy of it.  I write for the pleasure of the craft.  I want to have fun and not worry about the bills.  Can they just pay themselves and let me play at writing and at my viola (and other instruments) for the fun of it?  I don’t like to write, or do anything else, under any externally imposed stress.  It’s good to push myself, but I feel the creativity of it being squeezed out, and I dry up inside, slow down, and eventually stop until I feel like I can pick it up again.

I used to read a lot.  I love books.  But there was a cycle that I became aware of, during my school years.  I read what was required during the year, I studied hard, and read very little for pleasure.  Summer would come, and I would have free time.  But it took me until the first several weeks of summer vacation before I felt like reading anything, even though it was for fun.  School was so stressful, so pushy, I dried up and lost the urge to read anything at all, because I was being forced to do it.  I would read for fun, the last part of June, through August, and then the cycle would start again.  Stress, squeeze, dry, rest, recreate.  It was almost like the books I read for fun were water to my dry sponge of life, but I couldn’t bring myself to go to the library because I was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from being forced to read and do other things.  The cycle hurt my soul, and it takes me some time to get back to where I feel like I can read anything.  And pushing myself to do anything else at an unnatural or forced pace or compulsory direction seems to make that cycle start happening all over again.

In one week, there will be a brand new year.  When I sat and wrote in 2014, it was 500 or a thousand words at a seating.  If I keep doing that, eventually my hobby will bear fruit.  I see the buds blossoming on my hobby tree, and I’m waiting for those beautiful, fat, juicy apples to form.  And after those, I have ideas for more.  So that’s my goal for 2015, same as it was for 2014, but AGED with wisdom.  It’s just a hobby, not something to feel pressure or disappointment about, but something to take when it comes, and have fun.  Who knows?  Maybe I can finish the novels, improve on my viola, learn guitar, win the lottery and be free.  We’ve even got a symphony orchestra nearby that I’d love to play with.  But if not, I hope to take the freedom and margin I do have, and run with that.  Until I get that big payoff that sets me free to do what I really want, there’s more urgent things that I need to do, and they’re going to distract me from what I really want to do.  Here’s hoping, though.

There was a time when I sat down at the computer and researched how long the average novel was, and I had zero words on the page.  Now I have lots of words on the pages, but haven’t reached my finish lines.  I just have to realize, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  It’s not an hors d’oeuvre, it’s a 21 course meal.  I can do it.  It can be fun.  There can be second winds, runners highs, endorphins from the wonderful, different, complementary flavors, complex harmonies.  And there will be trips, falls, skinned knees and bruises, feelings of impossibility, car repairs and other disasters along the way.  I hope you can find time, or build time, in your busy schedule, to incorporate some relaxation, fun, recuperation, when you’re feeling the stress of life squeezing the freedom out of your dreams, and then get back to pursuing them.

And I hope you have set goals and you are reaching for them, and making progress, even if it’s little-by-little.  We may not have the encouragement from the people we wish would be encouraging.  It may not be as quick as we want, or as profitable as we want. If you love doing it I pray you’ll be able to keep on pressing on toward your goals and that you’ll get there.  The journey takes longer than I ever dreamed it would, and on my journey there have been metaphoric (and literal) car problems and flat tires and family squabbles all along the way.  Keep pressing forward.  Hold tightly to your Ambitions, Goals, Expectations, and Discipline, and keep writing!  Or model-building.  Or learning.  Or practicing.  Or whatever that good thing is that you do in your spare time.  Keep on going.  Sure, we’ll end up AGED.  But that pursuit is worthwhile.  And you can do it.

Telephone Tag December 15, 2014

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It’s Christmas.  I’m enjoying everyone else’s excitement and fun.  But I’m a bit lost in it all.  Sure, we’re setting up our kids, and I hope to write a Christmas poem/song and a nice note for my wife.  We quit doing the stupid Christmas letter years ago.  Those letters we receive, and those letters we’ve sent in the past, were all about feeling positive about the present and the future.  Why bother?  So I quit doing it.  And my wife, not being the writer, didn’t take it up.  If you’re fond of writing, or reading, the Christmas letter, and getting the photo of the family, I love to read yours and see your pictures, and I’m not as critical of your writing as I am when I write my own.  We didn’t take one of those happy smiling photos either, so I’m sorry.  My wife and kids are more beautiful/handsome than ever, thank you for asking.

My wife tries to encourage me.  “We’ll be ok.  Smile.” Or something like that.

“OK” (Faking smile for 3 seconds)  “I’m ‘depressed-happy.'”

My pastor keeps hitting me with these “Messages from God,” and it’s only his second or third Sunday as Senior Pastor.  Last week he asked what we’d answer if God asked us to do something.  I’d assert that my answer is yes.  His example was Zechariah, who was asked to name his kid John and raise him to a high standard of behavior, and Elizabeth, who was asked to have a kid when she was kind of elderly for child-bearing.  This week he asked if we were available.  Yes again.  His example was Mary, who had done the right things in her youth, and was available to God for His purposes.  Well, who in the modern era has done the right things?  Not I.  But available?  Sure.  Let me know what you want me to do, and then give me the energy, inspiration and time to get it done.  I’ve got a little time if I sneak it in, or delay some pressing project that’s less than urgent.

Why am I “depressed-happy?”  Well, I like that people are gearing up for Christmas.  It’s cool.  The God I want to serve gets to be a focal point for people.  I’m getting ready for the Christmas Eve presentation at Church, and in the Sunday School class I teach, good kids every one, we talked about the Christmas story, Christmas carols, and poetry.  I encouraged them to read through what we know about Christmas from the source Texts, (Matthew, Mark, Luke) so they can separate fact from myth or poetic license.  That’s a good thing.  And we’re not in dire dire straits.  And my wife and kids are beautiful and relatively happy.  And my wife is very good, like fantastic, about wanting to take care of me and the kids.  So that’s the happy part.

What’s the “depressed” part?  The message I strongly feel is being directed to me is only getting halfway across.  I mean, Mary and Joseph and Zecharias got angels, for heaven’s sake.  Color me jealous.  They delivered a complete message of instruction.  Where’s mine?  Sure, it’d scare the crap out of me.  But at the same time, it’d be clear.  It’s like that telephone game you played as a kid.  Someone would whisper a message to their neighbor.  They’d whisper to their neighbor, and so on until the message got to you, and it was distorted, garbled, or mischievously changed.  I get the first half.  Be available.  Fine, sign me up.

I’m signed up because I still believe God is the only God there is, because God is the only One Who can adequately step in here, and because in my past… well, there’s a novel or two for you. One is a story of survival, the other is a love story, miracles and all, that I still treasure and cling to, although, the only angel in that story is my wife.  It’s just been a while since I’ve had a really good, hopeful chapter.

So I’m signed up.  Now I just need the means, energy, inspiration and time.  I don’t feel that i have any of that.  And for what?  For what I’m already going through?  Where do I sign up to escape from the stupidity of it?  Stuff falls apart, and this trend is not met with the resources to fix things I feel need to be  fixed.  So it waits on the repair pile until it becomes a crisis and then it gets a patch.  And whenever I start to see what might be a flicker at the end of the tunnel, something comes along and snatches that away just as fast as I thought I saw it.  Or maybe I didn’t really see it.

The Sunday school kids and I focused on the shepherds this week.  Color me more jealous.  The shepherds got a whole anthem of angels.  OK I made that plural designation up, they’re sometimes called a “flight” or a “host” of angels.  But being as they busted out singing, an anthem seems fitting.  I just want one.  Not a misfit “Clarence,” like in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  But if Clarence appeared in the room, I’d even listen to him.

I watched a movie the other day, I won’t tell the title because I don’t think anyone else should endure it on purpose.  It was a typical starter story line for a movie, mystery builds, bad stuff happens, and you wait for the ending to be happy:  The victims are rescued, the bad guys are exterminated or arrested and carried off to justice, the hero says something witty and smiles and everything is ok.   Not this movie.  The victims are all just killed, including the lady you think will live, and the credits roll.  Real life, I guess.  But I thought it sucked!  I brought it up because I don’t want my real life to be like that.  It sucks, and you die.  The end.  Roll credits.  Please.  No.

If God/Jesus is the hero of the Bible (and He is), then I want Him to be my hero too.  And I can identify with the shepherds before the angelic chorus broke out.

Dear God,

It’s me.  I’m still here.  I feel like a shepherd, watching my sheep.  I’m getting old here on this cold hill.  My bones ache, my muscles are tired, my skin itches, my eyes are out of focus (old glasses), my teeth are failing, and the sheep are boring, doing what sheep do.  They’re born, we shear them, we feed and care for them, they live, they die.  Not exciting.  And I want to sleep, but if I slow down things will fall apart even faster, and they’re already faster than I can handle.  The sole came off of the heel of my shoe the other day, and I think there are holes in my covering.  (At least some of these are metaphors.) I feel breezy and cold, and my foot is damp.

I’m trying to do the right thing, but then my humanity creeps in and sometimes I do what humans do, which is to screw up.  Sorry for not being pure and blameless all the time.  Not sure how Zecharias and Mary managed that.  I’m trying to help out, but I really don’t feel empowered to do more or give more.  I’ve got a dream, but, the pay is crap and I’m stuck here on this hill without the means or time or energy or inspiration to pursue it.  And I’m trying to pursue the dream without the means, in whatever spare time I might have, and I progress little by little, but most days I’m not feeling like I’m making any progress at all.

I don’t even have the right that Mary or Zecharias and Elizabeth might have claimed, to be chosen.  I’m not pure and blameless.  I’ve got age spots on my sins.  But I still want Jesus to be my Hero.  If He’s not coming in person, I still want Him to send help.  The shepherds had a cool story to tell, after that night.  Mary, and Zecharias, and Elizabeth, and the rest, lived out a pretty cool story too.  I understand the stigma Mary had to endure.  But her kid was Jesus, for heaven’s sake.  How comforting would it be to be “overshadowed by the power of God” (v35) Himself?

Right now the villain has me in his evil clutches.  I don’t want it to end like that movie.  Can my story have a happy ending, please?  And can You intervene for those out there that I know have it even worse than me, first?

Signed,
Me

I’m ready for Christmas.  I hope there’s a present under the tree for me.  I hope there’s at least one for you too.  And for everyone else who is crying out, I hope you’ll find hope in this season, too.  Give a listen to the song below.  It’s one of my very favorite bands, with a song that is close to my heart, although maybe right now we’re on the wrong side of it.  And may “God bless us, every one!”

In the Dark (Short Story) July 2, 2014

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I wrote a short story for my lovely writers group meeting since I had the quite rare opportunity to actually attend.  The assignments are supposed to have a word count limit of 500.  This summer has been a working one, without a great deal of time to write or do much else.  I’ll be working again from the middle of July to the end of August, probably, so I’ll likely miss at least one more meeting before fall.  It was great to see friends I have missed for several months, as we all shared our stories and poems on the theme, “A House and the People who Live in it.”  I originally wrote it without the final section.  I thought to stop after the word “invitation,” but I decided I didn’t like that, leaving the reader in doubt about my character’s choice.  Since you know there was a draft ending there, maybe you can tell me if you think one way is better than the other.  For me, I decided it would be better without that loose end.  So here, without further ado, is

In The Dark         7/1/2014              Michael N. Johns

     In the house, all shadows and pitch and palpable darkness, he saw them all, as if in the morning light.

     His wife.  He watched her dance playfully in her sleeveless summer dress, full of magnificent beauty and curve and subtle power.  She saw him notice and smiled that closed-lipped half-embarrassed smile she always gave when he admired everything about her.  He felt himself reacting to the vision.  She blew him a kiss, and then he felt as though he were riding a bullet train that now made an emergency stop.       

     And she was gone.

     His head hurt.

     He shook it off.  The cheap beer sweated from the heat, on the small, sturdy table beside him.  He took a sip, then closed his eyes, knowing he’d regret opening them.  Damn.  He saw his beautiful daughter now.  Innocence and blonde curly hair and those passionately deep blue eyes that reflected whimsical skies- now clear, now cloudy, now violent, then clear again.  She lay in the grass, reading.  She turned.  He heard her voice asking for a glass of lemonade, and then, felt the sickening lurch once more as she dissolved into thin air.

     Nausea and pain gripped his abdomen.  He felt weakness from his shoulders to his knees, grateful he was sitting.  He felt the tears and running nose, and fought it all back.  His eyes closed reflexively from the combat.  Damn.

     He kept his eyes down, staring at his hand.  He saw his wedding band, yellow-gold, Cheshire grinning, just as quietly manic as the Lewis Carroll character.  Another sip of beer, keeping his eyes focused on the ring.  He heard the carnival music, and it was his black-haired son, asking for another cotton candy and money for the roller coaster.  He didn’t have to look, to see.

     Why?

     They weren’t real but he heard them, saw them.  For God’s sake, he smelled his wife’s perfume.  She always dabbed, just a little, in that spot that made him want, like wildfire wants air.  It had been years, but they were still there.  And still gone.   He had helped pack the bags, sending them to a vacation trip while he stayed home to work.  And then he heard the news reports.  The rest was a hazy blur, but he didn’t want to focus.

     The other metal glinted at arms’ length, on the table beside him.  Beckoning, stark obsidian reflected in the clouded moonlight.  It was an open invitation.  He considered the objects on the table and, this time, again, selected the beer, lifting gently by the top of the neck.  He himself rose from the chair and then began to slowly dance.  Dancing to the door, he reached into his pocket and retrieved his wallet.  He took the cash and flung it into the air, and then his wallet followed.  Then he walked outside, lay in the grass, considered the moon, wished he had some lemonade instead of this cheap beer, and cried.