Saturday, January 14, 2017

29 - What Will Be WIll Be

 Ned and Claire biked home in the dark after the day of garden planting with Topping, Charlotte, Bartholomew and Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey. Ned didn't like biking in the dark; he found it hard to see potholes and objects that might be in the way. He worried about having an accident. Claire, on the other hand, didn't worry about anything. Being on a bike was like breathing. She biked everywhere. This was partly because she did not own a car, but she used that as an excuse. She really enjoyed biking. It made her feel good about her body and about her planet. She also felt that it brought her more in touch with her neighborhood, because she saw more of it when biking. As Ned worried more and more about running into things, he fell behind. Then he felt like he had to catch up. He was torn between wanting to do something with Claire, and yet wanting to go at his own pace. He felt resentments about being led into these situations by Claire's confidence. In fact, Claire's general confidence in all things made Ned a bit uncomfortable.

They arrived home and carried their bikes up the three flights of stairs to the apartment and parked them in the living room. Ned collapsed on a worn out couch while Claire headed to the kitchen for a drink of water. Although they had just biked five miles, their stomachs were full from the large meal that Aunt Josephine had made for the gardeners. Claire came back out to the living room with a glass of water in her hand. Ned wondered why she didn't offer to get him a glass of water, too. Claire collapsed in a stuffed chair that wasn't stuffed enough. “Ow,” she said as a spring poked her butt.

“Can't we get a new chair? This one is horrible,” she commented.

Ned sighed.

“What's up with you?” asked Claire.

“What do you mean?” responded Ned.

“You were quiet all day at the garden and Bartholomew's. You were crabby about where you were planting things and quiet the whole way home. And now you aren't answering my question. So, what's up?”

“Nothing's up. I just don't feel like talking.”

“You spend the whole day with your partner and your friends and you don't feel like talking? That's just weird.”

“My partner? What does that mean?” asked Ned, never having heard Claire use that term before.

“Uh, we've been living together for almost five months. At this point, it's not like I'm just a girlfriend.”

Ned wasn't sure what the difference would be between a girlfriend and a partner. “So, you’re my partner? Like a business partner? Like, you help me pay the rent and buy groceries and things like that? Cuz, last I checked, you still don't have a job. At this point, it's not like this is much of a partnership.”

Claire's heart winced but her anger did not. “What? You think of this as a business partnership? I didn't know there were conditions on me being here. Is that what you want?” Ned did not respond so Claire continued. “No, I don't have a job. But it’s not like I haven't taken care of things around here. It's not like I don't contribute. I clean the apartment and I cook and fix things. And I have paid for some things.”

“Look, I'm tired,” said Ned, “let's forget I said anything.”

Claire moved over to the couch. “I can't forget something like that. Is that why you've been quiet all day? You’re mad that I don't contribute around here?”

“It's not that you don't contribute, it's just that I needed a roommate to help cover the rent and here you are costing me more money. I'm dipping into my savings to float us here. I'm trying to save my money for other things.”

“Like what?” demanded Claire.

“Well, I've always tried to save enough money to cover four months worth of bills. That way I have a nest egg and if anything happens, like I lose my job, or I get sick or something, I have a cushion. It's the prudent thing to do.”

“What? You're saving money in order to save money? Being prudent is more important than our relationship?” asked Claire as tears came to her eyes.

“It's not that its more important...,” began Ned. He stopped. His mind raced back across time. He revisited all the times he felt that Claire was being unfair or demanding. He thought about how embarrassed he was when she was kicked out of the Earth Day Celebration and when she broke down at the spoken word event. He thought about how she kept expressing her opinion even when she knew it would be uncomfortable for him. He often had thought that Claire relied more on her gross-emotional skills than her fine-emotional skills. In a word, she was blunt – blunt as a stub. This even carried over to their love-making. Every time they made love, Claire needed it to be at a certain emotional pitch. She didn't have a sense of lingering, of spooning for hours or of having fun while being intimate. She seemed to have no imagination. It had to always be the same game, the same roles and then done.

As Claire waited for Ned to finish his sentence, she thought about all the times that Ned didn't keep up with her. This wasn't just with biking. Ned couldn't keep up in conversation, in understanding the motives behind political situations, in expressing what he wanted for food – or anything. Ned always seemed to be lagging, which in Claire's mind meant lacking. He often seemed distant, unsure and, in general, incapable. This even carried over to their love-making. Every time they had sex, Ned never seemed satisfied. He was always wanting to try something new, something different. He never seemed contented to just make love to her – to simply enjoy Claire as a partner. It was as if he needed something more to excite him.

Ned, finally continued, “ is important. It actually is important to have money in the bank. Is it more important than our relationship? No, I don't think so, but if I had a choice between having a relationship that is penniless and the same relationship with money in the bank, I would take the relationship with money—some security. Plus, we will have to move if you don't start paying for your half of the bills.”

“I just couldn't imagine that you were this greedy,” said Claire. “Maybe if you would share what you’re thinking and feeling once in awhile I might have seen this coming.”

Ned glared at her. Claire could tell that she had stepped over a line, and she took a morsel of pleasure in this.

“Why share myself?” replied Ned. “Every time I do you don't like it. I say something and you jump all over it or you start to question me. Why can't you just let people be themselves? Like Mayor Dick. Why do you get so caught up with whatever the hell Mayor Dick is doing?”

“Because he's a...a...fucking idiot!” said Claire. “He's ruining everything by being so stupid and pigheaded. People like him will ruin the entire planet if they’re allowed to keep doing what they're doing!”

“Oh, OK, here we go! Yes, the whole big planet-is-dying thing And you are the only person who really cares.”

“Oh my god,” said Claire. “I can't believe what I'm hearing. You mean you don't see that the planet is dying? Were you ever going to tell me this or just keep going to Earth Day Celebrations with me? Maybe I was right at Topping and Charlotte's New Year's Eve party – maybe you are a Capitalist Nazi. After all, you treasure your money more than our relationship.”

Like two dead goldfish caught in the spinning whirlpool of a toilet, these two weren't going to stop until they were stuck in deep shit.

“I am not a Capitalist Nazi! I don't like money more than people, I just want to be thoughtful about my money. I want to have money so I am not dependent on others.”

“But we are all dependent on each other. Don't you get it? Everything we do affects the environment and other people. You can't make and spend your money in a vacuum. To think you do is a lie.”

“Yes, I guess I'm in denial,” Ned said sarcastically. “I'm in denial about the state of the planet, about money and about myself. After only five months you know me better than myself. Yes, you are the great all-seeing Claire.”

“Shut the fuck up!” said Claire, throwing a chair pillow at Ned.

“Oh, now don't start oppressing the masses with pillows,” taunted Ned.

Claire moved quickly and swatted at Ned with another pillow. Ned blocked it.

“Shut up, you moron,” said Claire as she kept swatting at Ned.

“Yes, sometimes it does seem like I'm a moron in your eyes,” said Ned as he parried a swat with his own pillow.

Claire hesitated and then swatted one more time, catching Ned in the face. Ned became enraged and popped off the sofa and on top of Claire, who toppled over backward into the stuffed chair.

“Get off of me!” Claire screamed.

“Not until you apologize,” said Ned pushing down on her.

“For what?” Claire asked indignantly.

“For hitting me in the face, for thinking I'm a moron and for not letting me be me.”

“What the fuck?” said Claire. “You are a moron.”

Ned pushed down harder.

“Ow, alright! I'm sorry for hitting you in the face.”


“...and for calling you a moron.”


“C'mon, Ned,” said Claire, “if you don't feel like you can be yourself, that's not my problem. Assert yourself!”

“Like this?” Ned said as he pushed down harder.

“No, you...” Claire caught herself, “...not like that. TALK TO ME! Let me know what you're thinking. Don't be so quiet all the time!”

They stared into each other's eyes.

“Ned. Get off of me,” said Claire.

Ned got off of Claire and sat back down on the sofa, holding a pillow to his chest. Claire stayed in the chair breathing heavily. They said nothing for a long time. Claire wiped tears from her eyes. Ned gritted his teeth. Eventually, the tide of anger receded and they both apologized for the least harmful of their actions.

Ned said, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push down on you like that.”

Claire said, “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hit you in the face with the pillow.”

But, of course, both of them did want to do those things, because they did them. They did want to hurt each other. For the next two weeks, they both held back from saying and doing unkind things to each other. Ned tried to talk more about his feelings and share what he was thinking. Claire tried to think more positively about Ned and go at his pace. Eventually, the facade began to crack. Unkind gestures and thoughts leaked back in here and there. A month after the incident they both were back to blaming each other for the problems in their relationship. Soon enough, all trust was gone.

If they had a guardian angel in their lives helping them with their relationship they might have realized that neither of them was to blame, that neither of them could change enough to please the other and that they couldn't change each other enough to become one. If, on that New Year's Eve that seemed so long ago, an angel had been at the party they might have realized that they were not meant for each other. If there had been such a guardian angel, they would not have spent all this time in pain and anguish trying to make something work that was never meant to be. But there was no angel at the party and they didn't learn these things, like most people, before going through them. Claire let a spooky old crow scare her into the relationship and Ned, like a whipped dog, was led by his desperate hope and propped up expectations... like most people.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by James O'Brien

28 - Growing a Community

It was a beautiful spring morning. The birds had been singing for a couple of hours and Bartholomew was singing, too. “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hill and engines there...” Whatever song or words came into Bartholomew's head he sang. He was in a good mood because today was the day he and all of his friends were going to plant their garden.

“Oh Oliver,” said Bartholomew to his cat, “this is so exciting! I can't wait to plant some kale.”

Oliver jumped onto the sofa and laid down, “I hope you weren't expecting me to help?”

“I wish you could join us! It would be so much fun to have you there with everyone else. But I know, you don't like the outdoors.”

“No,” said Oliver, “the outdoors is for animals.”

Bartholomew reached into the closet and pulled out a hat and a pair of work gloves. He went quickly to the kitchen and packed some snacks and a couple bottles of water. “Hmmmmm...mmm... Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day. Home, home is so strange. Where the deer and the cantelope plaaaaay! Where seldom is heard a disparaging word and a guy can eat kale… aaaall...daaaaay!”

Oliver buried his ears under his paws. Bartholomew ran by the sofa, patted and rubbed Oliver on the head much too vigorously, and skipped to the door. “Good-bye Oliver.”

“Please, leave before you say 'yippee-skippee' again.”

Bartholomew slammed the door behind him.

Claire and Ned were already at the garden lot when Bartholomew arrived. They had ridden bikes and they each had spades, small hand trowels and matching brand new gardening gloves. Bartholomew thought they looked cute together.

“Hi, Claire. Ned,” said Bartholomew.

They both said “hello” back and then Claire pointed to the street where Charlotte was just driving up. Charlotte, whose window was rolled down, waved at them. Like a reflex, they all waved back.

“Ready to plant?” Bartholomew asked Claire and Ned while Charlotte parked her car.

“Yeah!” yelled Claire. Ned nodded while pulling at his dreds.

“Wow, you guys have been busy,” said Charlotte, as she carried two metal rakes and nodded at a bunch of plants already in the ground.

“That's Mr.McBardon's plot,” said Bartholomew. “He put that in last weekend sometime. I don't think it took him long, it just appeared one day.”

“He wasn't kidding about that hedge,” said Claire, eyeing the taller plants around the perimeter of the plot.

“I don't think it will keep out rats, but you sure can tell where his plot is,” said Charlotte, referring to a comment Mr. McBardon had made earlier.

“Well, lets mark out the garden and where everything is going,” said Bartholomew, pulling a tape measure out of his pocket.

“Hey, where's Topping?” asked Claire.

“He's working on Bartholomew's car,” said Charlotte. When she was starting the sentence she felt a little regret that Topping was busy and didn't come to the garden with her. But as she finished the sentence she remembered that Topping was doing something cool for Bartholomew. “He said he would be here before noon.”

The group of friends started to lay out the perimeter of the garden with string and stakes. Bartholomew energetically took the lead in measuring and identifying corners, etc. The rest, seeing how excited he was, gladly did what he asked. As Ned was driving one stake into the ground, he hit a hard spot. It was probably a rock, but the prospect of pounding into an underground gas line ran through Ned's head. An image of himself being hurled in six different directions appeared before him.

“Hey, Bartholomew, did you check on the property and all that stuff? There aren't gas lines or anything underground, are there?”

“Mr. McBardon was in such a hurry that he said he checked things out and everything is fine. There isn't anything underground except, judging by that pile Mr. McBardon made, there might be rocks.”

Ned moved the stake slightly to one side and pounded it in to the ground wondering if he could trust old Mr. McBardon. He assured himself that they are not planting very deep. Anything utilities underground would be much deeper – probably.

As they were just about finished with the layout of the garden, Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine pulled up with a rented rototiller and a trailer full of soil. Uncle Jeffrey honked the horn. Everyone turned and waved.

“You’re just in time,” called Bartholomew as Uncle Jeffrey was busy untying the rototiller.

“This looks great!” encouraged Aunt Josephine to Charlotte “And look, you already have plants coming up!”

“Those are Mr. McBardon's,” explained Claire. “He planted those last week.”

“Oh,” said Aunt Jospehine as she wrinkled her nose at the tall plants encircling his plot.

Bartholomew and Uncle Jeffrey pulled the rototiller out of the back of the truck and wheeled it over to the garden.

“Did you check on the property and utilities?” asked Uncle Jeffrey.

“Yeah, well, actually, Mr. McBardon checked because he wanted to plant last weekend and he said it was all good.”

Uncle Jeffrey looked over at Mr. McBardon's house and wondered if he could trust him.

In no time, the tiller was running and churning up the ground. The dirt was compacted and everyone took turns using the tiller, except Aunt Josephine. They left pathways between areas of the garden that Bartholomew was going to mow once a week. As the rototiller finished an area, people would come behind with metal rakes and shovels to break the dirt up even more and to remove rocks. They then would add new soil and the tiller would come back and mix it in. It was a lot of work and Even before lunch time they finished, but everybody was so tired that they took a break. Uncle Jeffrey and Bartholomew hoisted the tiller back into the truck to return it to the rental store.

As everyone headed back to Bartholomew's house, a car turned onto the street and honked at them. Bartholomew stopped in the middle of the road, his eyes wide with disbelief. He knew his car would look different when Topping was done painting it, but nothing could have prepared him for this. Topping drove up in a 1974 Peugeot with flaming vegetables streaming off the front of the car and tumbling their way down the sides. Red and orange flames licked out from behind green peppers, carrots and tomatoes. There on the hood was the most amazing thing of all: a flaming leaf of kale spread from side to side. Everyone was laughing and cheering and admonishing Topping for doing an amazing job. Topping had risen to the occasion.

Everyone gathered around the car as Topping parked it along the curb. Bartholomew still stood in the middle of the road, his mouth agape. Topping cautiously approached him.

“Well, Bartholomew, what do you think?”

Bartholomew didn't know what to say. It was the most amazing car he had ever seen. He had thought flames would be cool, but Topping was right, Bartholomew was not thrilled by the original idea. But this, this made everything perfect! Now his car had cool flames AND all the vegetables that he loved.

Bartholomew stepped forward and gave Topping a bear hug. “Thank you,” he said into Topping’s ear. “It is ah-amazing.”

Bartholomew and Topping escorted each other to the car with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Bartholomew studied the detail of the flames and how they seemed to be licking at the surfaces of the vegetables. He noticed the surface detail in the carrots and the many, many, many folds in the kale leaf on the hood. He was lost in some of those folds when he felt something on his leg. He looked down to see a small pug dog humping his left leg. He moved his leg and knocked the dog to the ground. It was up immediately humping his leg again. Bartholomew shook it off a second time and the little dog mounted Topping's leg. Topping laughed and moved his leg to knock the dog off.

“It's Hump-Pug,” said Ned.

“What? Hump-Pug?” asked Bartholomew.

“Yeah,” said Ned. “This dog has been around town the last month or so. It just keeps trying to hump things all the time. People just started calling it Hump-Pug.”

Topping laughed as Hump-Pug mounted him again. He pushed her away again. Hump-Pug ran to a nearby lamppost and did her thing. Everyone started laughing.

“C'mon, let's go inside and eat. I brought pizza,” said Topping. “I got vegetable pizza for you Bartholomew.” Bartholomew imagined the vegetables on the pizza in the hot oven catching fire and then being thrown onto and becoming the skin of his 1974 Peugeot. Beautiful. As they walked into the house, he noticed Hump-Pug humping the mailbox.

Bartholomew, his friends and his family had pizza and beer and talked about recipes they would like to make from the vegetables harvested from their garden. Charlotte and Bartholomew agreed to share recipes and to cook together once a week. Topping liked that idea. Claire wanted to try a recipe called Carrots Marguerite. She had seen it made on a cooking show. Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey regaled them with stories of food they had eaten at weddings and other parties. By the end of lunch, Bartholomew was sharing how his parents used to cook. How his mom would forage food from the neighborhood parks and public spaces-- apple trees, current bushes, elderberry nectar and... Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine gave Bartholomew a stern look. He stopped talking about his parents and suggested they head back out to the garden to plant the seeds and seedlings he and Uncle Jeffrey had picked up earlier that week.

Everyone filed out of the house to the garage where the plants were stored.. Bartholomew had expected to see Hump-Pug but she was nowhere in sight. The group headed down to the garden with plants in tow. Uncle Jeffrey drove off with the tiller to return it to the rental store. Arriving at the garden, Topping said, “Wow, you guys have gotten far. You even have plants coming up already!”

“Those are Mr. McBardon's,” said everyone. Everyone laughed.

Bartholomew directed the planting effort. He gave a quick training in how to plant the seeds and the seedlings. They each selected plants and consulted with Bartholomew where they were to plant them. Charlotte and Aunt Josephine paired up to plant the tomatoes. Bartholomew and Topping went to plant potatoes. Claire and Ned stayed put and planted some lettuce seeds.

There was light chatter amongst the planting couples, but after a short time everyone heard Ned say, “What's wrong with planting them here?”

Claire responded, “The package says two to two and half feet.”

“This is two to two and a half feet! Geez.”

“Well, it needs to be right. It should be back farther.”

“Fine, plant it where you want it,” said Ned as he rose and moved to where Bartholomew and Topping were planting. The three of them planted without talking. Claire finished where she was and then joined Charlotte and Aunt Josephine. They all spent the rest of the day moving from place to place within the garden planting their seeds and seedlings.

Uncle Jeffrey arrived and went to Mr. McBardon's house to set up a hose for watering. Mr. McBardon was providing the hose, sprinkler and, of course, the water for the garden. It was a very generous gift. Uncle Jeffrey pulled the hose over to the garden like he was hauling a long thin python. Soon the dirt darkened as the water droplets fell on the tilled soil. The beds were completed when Bartholomew filled the last one with kale seeds.

“There,” said Bartholomew as he lightly tamped the ground and stood up.

As the shadows began to grow long, everyone stood curbside and looked at the fruits of their labor. The whole place smelled of wet earth. Before them spread a fresh patch of soil filled with hope. Bartholomew could see it already, green plants willing themselves out of the brown earth, growing larger with each passing week until they were ready to be gathered, brought to the kitchen, prepared and devoured. He couldn't wait.

“All right, everyone,” said Aunt Josephine, “back to Bartholomew's house for some dinner. I'm cooking.”

A cheer went up. Seven weary bodies headed up the street, past a freshly painted car and into the house. Some collapsed in the living room. Others went to the kitchen to cook. They all felt good about what they had done. They talked about the afternoon and about the differences between seeds and seedlings. As the sun was about to set, Bartholomew went to the door for one last look. There, on the curb, was his car – a flaming vegetable mobile. It made him smile. He turned to see Topping who was laughing as he told a story to Claire and Uncle Jeffrey. Bartholomew felt his chest grow as he took in a deep slow breath of appreciation. He gazed down to the garden, there, at the end of the block. In the dark shadows of approaching night he could make out the patches of tilled soil, the pathways and a low hedge of plants at the back. He turned his attention to the people in the house – his friends and his family. Again, he felt his chest grow as he took in a deep slow breath of satisfaction. Satisfaction at having planted the garden. Satisfaction at having found some real friends. And a deep satisfaction that he was, slowly, making his life into what he wanted it to be.

Bartholomew heard a noise outside. Across the street he could barely discern a small little four-legged something thrusting itself against the base of a light pole. There was a yelp and then it was gone.
_____________________________________________________________ Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by JM Culver

Monday, January 9, 2017

27 - Topping Paints a Peugeot

Topping liked the smell of his Uncle Cy's car painting shop. It was an old building where one's nose is smothered with an old musty smell of crumbling mortar and the modern chemical smell of sprayed paint. He knew of no other place that seemed so clean and at the same time so grungy.

Topping had already washed Bartholomew's 1974 Peugeot and removed any wax or grease from its surface. He was about to scuff the pink and white paint so the old paint could receive the new. Once he started this step, there was no turning back, he would have to paint Bartholomew's car no matter what. Topping's hand shook a little, as he placed the scuffing pad on the surface. He took a deep breath. He waited. Did he really know what he was doing? This job was far beyond anything he had done up to this point. What if he failed? He could always paint it white with a pink stripe again, he knew he could do that much, at least. Topping's hand started to move, ruining the smooth slick finish. The die was cast.

It took a while to properly scuff every corner and nook on the car. When he was done he took another deep breath. He felt like he hadn't breathed during the whole process. He wiped the car down again and then tacked it clean. Topping was becoming intimately familiar with the surface of the Peugeot. He noticed a few small dents he had never noticed before. The key holes had small shallow scratches around them and on the chrome. The corner of one door was ever so slightly bent, leaving a crack in the old paint surface. As he scuffed, it became obvious where the sealcoat had worn away, leaving a slight dulling that was erased as his pad circled over it again and again. His fingertips could feel the bleached out paint, the surfaces made ragged from excessive heat. His body was melding over the rocker panels and the sidewalls. The Peugeot was slowly but surely being absorbed into Topping’s very being. Soon they would begin to communicate-- the car whispering to the young man what he had missed, where he had not scuffed enough, where to place the seems of the masks, and eventually, most importantly of all, how it wanted to be painted. Topping knew the final product was not up to Bartholomew. It was not even up to Topping. The car was in charge. It was only up to Topping to listen or ignore – and he didn't know how to ignore.

After a little more work on the dents and dings, Topping taped all of the chrome and trim. He then covered the windshield, windows, grill and lights with paper and taped the edges down. He was ready to apply the base color of the car. He loaded his spray gun with the green paint and began the mechanical and rhythmic back and forth spraying motion.

He came home well after midnight, had some leftovers from the refrigerator and headed to bed. Charlotte did not wake. Topping's sleep was fitful as images of the design waged war in his head. He was up for good before the alarm went off. He got out of bed, had a quick breakfast and headed back to the shop.

Topping arrived just as Uncle Cy was turning on the lights. Uncle Cy spent some time looking over Topping’s paint job. He nodded his head in approval. This gave Topping a little extra spring in his step for the rest of the morning. He went to a table at the back of the shop, grabbed some masking paper, pulled off part of the backing and headed to the hood of the Peugeot. He carefully secured the first sheet onto the car. There could be no wrinkles. His hands could feel the sheet adhere to the surface below it, inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter. Not a wrinkle. If he sensed a possible wrinkle starting, he would pull the paper back slightly, caress it to the surface and seduce it into place. The paper had no chance to object, it wouldn't dare. This dance went on for a long time. Upon loving the last sheet into place, Topping stepped back and realized he was sweating, exhausted and hungry. He could now leave the Peugeot in this state until the next step: drawing the design right onto the car.

He went home for lunch and to take a nap. He woke up about the time Charlotte got home from work.

“Where were you last night?” Charlotte asked, obviously a little mad.

“I was at the shop, working on the Peug..., on Bartholomew's car.”

“It would have been nice to get a call or something.”

“I'm sorry, I was just into it and didn't notice the time passing,” apologized Topping.

“I don't like it when the only clue I had that you were even here last night was your cereal bowl in the sink,” said Charlotte as she hung up her coat.

“I'm sorry, I just had the car on my mind and I wanted to get right back at it this morning,” Topping said as he moved to the kitchen to get something to eat.

“Are you making supper?”

Topping, not having even thought about what he was doing, stammered,, “Uh...uh...”

“Oh never mind,” Charlotte groaned.

Topping pulled out some leftovers, enough for him and Charlotte, and threw them in the microwave. He grabbed a couple of glasses, some leftover salad and placed it all on the table. The microwave beeped. “I have some food ready, if you want,” yelled Bartholomew Topping back to Charlotte who had retreated to the bedroom. No response.

Topping sat down at the card table and started to eat. He was almost done when Charlotte arrived. She sat down roughly in her folding chair and then picked at the now-cold food. They ate in silence. Topping finished his food, took his plate and bowl to the dishwasher and then served himself some ice cream. “Want some?” he asked. No response. Topping sighed.

After they were done eating, Charlotte asked, “Are you going back tonight?”

“I was thinking of it,” he said. No response.

“Look, I'm really worried about this job. It's the biggest one I've ever done and I'm changing the design on the fly...”

“You're changing the design?! You spent two months working on that design! And now you're changing it? Does Bartholomew even know? Never mind Bartholomew, you spent how many nights working on that design instead of hanging out with me, and now you're changing it? Boy, that makes me feel good!”

“No,...I...Agghhh!” said Topping. “I'm just trying to do a good job! It could lead to more work. I want Bartholomew to be happy....”

“Fine, make Bartholomew happy. In the meantime you're making me unhappy.” Charlotte stood up and went to the bedroom.

Topping put on his shoes and got ready to go to the shop. But then he thought maybe he should stay home and do something with Charlotte. He certainly didn't feel like doing that now. Topping sat perplexed. In the end, he knew he wanted to be working on the car, so he left and went to the shop. He was hoping Uncle Cy would still be there so he could talk with him about Charlotte, but he was already gone.

Topping went to the Peugeot and ran his hand over the masked surface. It felt good to him. The next step was to draw the design on it. Now he wasn't feeling like doing that either. Topping sat down perplexed. But he figured he was already at the shop, so he might as well get some work done. He found a pencil on the table and held it between his fingers. It felt right. He walked to his partner, the Peugeot, and began to discuss with his eyes how to start drawing the design. When the time was right, and no sooner, he placed the graphite on the paper and drew a large arc. It was wrong. He started again. This was better, but still wrong. He drew a third time, this one felt right. He continued. He worked for several hours getting every line in just the right place. If he felt inside himself that a line was not right, he would do it again and again until there was peace inside him.

Topping stepped back to assess his work. Faint lines played over the surface of the Peugeot. His design felt happy. That made Topping happy. He went to the table and picked up his cell phone and called Charlotte. “Hi Honey. Yeah, I'm coming home now. No. I just wanted to let you know. Okay, I'll see you soon.” Before turning out the lights and going home, Topping took one more look at his work. It felt good.

The next morning, Topping walked into the stall where he was painting the Peugeot to find a big note stuck on the car. “What the fuck are you doing? Uncle Cy.” Topping laughed. He was sure Uncle Cy must think he is crazy. It certainly was not your typical flame job he was painting. It is definitely the first one of its kind in this shop.

Topping grabbed an Xacto knife and headed to the car. He sobered himself up by breathing deeply. When he exhaled he bent over the hood to begin the next step. After having drawn the design on the masking paper, Topping now had to cut away the areas of the mask that he didn't need. This meant cutting through the paper and not into the painted surface below. It takes concentration. If Topping were to cut the painted surface it would show, even after he painted it. The tip of the blade pierced the paper. Toppings fingers could feel the blade tap the surface below. He stopped and then slowly but firmly pulled the blade through the surface of the paper toward himself. He had to cut all the way to the next line without stopping. Sure and consistent, Topping carved away the first shape of paper. He tugged at its edges and pulled the paper, like taffy, up and away from the car. The first piece of masking was removed. Now Topping had to do this many times over, always making sure that he was only cutting through the layer of paper. Several hours later he was done with the first stage of removing the mask. Next he had to paint where he had cut away, but Topping felt exhausted from concentrating so hard. He thought that he had not cut into the car's surface at all. Time would tell. Topping grabbed a ginger ale out of a small refrigerator, took a swig and then put his feet up to rest. He couldn't remember the last time he had concentrated that hard for that long. He decided to have lunch.

It’s hard to imagine that using a roller to paint a car is a good idea, but that is what Topping had to do next. He very carefully used a small paint roller to leave an ultra thin layer of bright red paint in the areas where he had removed the masking material. If the paint felt too thick he would wipe it off and start again. He would keep correcting it until it felt right. After finishing that layer of paint, he went back to cutting away some of the mask. Once enough mask was gone he added another layer of paint. Topping stopped and called Charlotte to tell her he would soon be home. Charlotte was a bit cold toward him. He didn't care. Topping was so exhausted he just wanted to go home and sleep. Which he did, even though Charlotte wanted to stay up together and watch a movie.

The next morning Uncle Cy walked into the stall while Topping was removing more mask.

“Is this really the design you wanted? I thought I saw something quite different before,” asked Uncle Cy.

“Yeah, well, I'm kinda winging the design a little. I just felt like he needed a little more than just flames...and the car wants more,” Topping said a little sheepishly.

Uncle Cy shook his head and smiled. He was not questioning Topping’s sanity, he recognized an addiction he was all too familiar with. Uncle Cy reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a blade. “Where do you want me to start?”

Topping smiled and directed Uncle Cy as to what needed to be cut away and what needed to stay. Uncle Cy pulled a pencil from behind his ear and marked an “x” on all the pieces that needed to be removed and began to carefully cut away the mask. Both of them worked the morning together and then Uncle Cy took Topping to a sandwich shop and bought him lunch. At about four o'clock, Topping finished up for the day. He felt right. Somehow, he felt a couple years older.

Topping went home and started cooking dinner for Charlotte – pancakes with sausage and eggs. It was about all he knew how to cook. He set the table. He even set napkins at the table. He wanted to impress Charlotte. When Charlotte arrived home she was surprised and touched by Topping’s thoughtfulness. After dinner, they made love and fell to sleep in each others arms. Topping knew, no matter how old he got, life didn't get any better than this.

The next day, Friday, Topping was painting on his own as Uncle Cy had other jobs to do. The day was as slow as a slug. It seemed to take Topping forever to do each step. By lunch it was as if it should have been dinner time. After lunch, Topping worked steadily but still felt like he wasn't making any headway. He lost track of time and when he reached a break point it was almost nine o'clock at night. “Oh shit,” he said as he finally thought of Charlotte. She didn't answer the phone. Topping wrapped up as quickly as he could but he was going to take the weekend off and needed to do some extra cleaning. He didn't get home until ten. Charlotte was not home.

Around midnight Charlotte woke Topping as she climbed into bed. “Hi,” he said. Charlotte said nothing and went to sleep. The rest of the weekend was about the same, a little chilly, not much fun and not what either of them wanted.

The next week, Topping painted the car every day. He called Charlotte each afternoon and tried to be home early – mostly he was. The last couple of days he had to do some small detail work with an airbrush then sealcoat it. Come Saturday morning, the morning they were going to plant the garden, Topping had to wax and buff the car. It wasn't much to do, but he was going to be late to the garden. He had told Bartholomew that he would help him build the garden and he felt that he should be there from the start. But he had also promised Bartholomew his car. So Topping decided to finish the car and be late for the gardening.

Around ten in the morning, Topping finished. He stepped back to take it in. It was beautiful. Every detail felt right. Standing there, Topping sensed how intimate he had become with this car. He was aware of every inch of its surface, every dimple, every dent. He knew the trim as well as he knew the back of his hand. The partnership between them was keen on his senses. His fingertips could still feel her. Her smell was familiar. Her sight now pulsed with an energy that radiated from her into Topping and then through his hands back onto her skin. She was transformed into a more true state of herself, a car that would be truly pleasing to Bartholomew.

Topping quickly cleaned her interior and opened the garage door. He lovingly inserted the key into her and turned her on. She purred. She felt right. He pulled out of the garage and drove to the garden. His window rolled down, the sun shining through the trees and the radio on, Topping knew life didn't get any better than this.
__________________________________________________________ Written by Mark Granlund 
Illustrated by Todd Balthazor

Sunday, January 8, 2017

26 - Sowing Plans

Aunt Josephine placed a tray of food on the coffee table and then sat back on the couch next to Uncle Jeffrey. Charlotte, Topping, Claire and Ned sat on the dining room chairs while Mr. McBardon, Bartholomew's elderly neighbor, wearing a plaid shirt, sat in a plaid stuffed chair with Oliver on his lap. Bartholomew came out of the kitchen carrying a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and glasses. One of his phones (he owns twelve) began to ring. He didn't want to interrupt the meeting, so he let it ring. Soon the group was surrounded by rings of different tones.

“How many phones do you have?” asked Claire.

“Bartholomew has twelve phones. He has trouble turning down a deal,” said Aunt Josephine.

Bartholomew blushed and changed the subject. “Okay, has everyone met everyone?” They went around the circle and introduced themselves to Mr. McBardon who was the only stranger.

“Well, I thought, before we talk about what plants we want to grow, we could discuss the layout or design of the garden and those types of things,” said Bartholomew.

Uncle Jeffrey spoke up immediately, “Bartholomew, I'm a little concerned about the property the garden is going to be on. Do you know who owns it? Is it city or railroad owned? I'm thinking we really should get permiss...”

“No need,” interrupted Mr. McBardon. “I've lived next to that property for forty years. Ain't nobody done nothing to it in all this time. I say garden it and see if anybody even notices. If you go asking permission, you know what's going to happen –nothing but trouble.”

“That may be, but I would feel more comfortable if we had permission, instead of just forging ahead,” said Uncle Jeffrey.

“Why don't we get started and before we dig Bartholomew can check into it?” suggested Mr. McBardon.

“Yeah,” said the others as they nodded their heads.

“Okay,” conceded Uncle Jeffrey, “But Bartholomew, do make sure you check.”

“I will,” assured Bartholomew. “All right, next thing I am wondering is if we all want our separate plots or if we want to grow stuff together? It might be easier if we grew enough tomatoes for everyone and grew them all next to each other. Then do the same with peas, and beans, etc.”

Mr. McBardon ran his hand through his thinning white hair and seemed agitated. “I want my own plot. You all can grow things together if you want, but I want my own plot for my own stuff. I want my own plot.”

Everyone raised their eyebrows at Mr. McBardon's insistence. “Okay, what do other people think?” asked Bartholomew.

Everyone else liked the idea of growing all of their food together. This was the first time most of them had grown food, so there were no expectations. Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey commented that it would be fun to grow it all together. They had grown a few things in their yard but nothing on this scale. So it was agreed that almost everyone would grow their food together but Mr. McBardon would have his own plot.

“Okay, so what do we want to grow? After we figure that out we can determine where we will plant everything. Any suggestions?”

Claire took a carrot stick from the tray dipped it and bit into it. Loud crunching sounds emanated from her mouth.

“I think Claire wants carrots,” joked Topping.

Claire nodded her head and smiled while she chewed.

“Okay, carrots,” said Bartholomew. “Anything else?”

Aunt Josephine spoke up, “Well, I would like some peas and beans. They are early vegetables so we would have to start them soon. I'm a little worried about vermin getting to them. When I was little, rabbits and squirrels would eat the peas before they could grow.”

“Not to mention the rats that might be along the railroad track,” said Mr. McBardon.

Charlotte let out a little squeal at the thought of rats.

“I'm sure there aren't any rats along the tracks,” assured Uncle Jeffrey.

“Just so,” said Mr. McBardon, “I can put my plot out closest to the railroad tracks and plant a big hedge of plants so they can't get through. And there's that little dog that's been hanging around humping everything. It might dig up the garden.”

There was a pause in the conversation as everyone wondered how a hedge of plants could keep out rats. Mr. McBardon just sat there chewing on his upper lip with his bottom dentures.

Changing the subject, Bartholomew said, “If you don't mind, I would like to grow cherry tomatoes, and some big tomatoes, three different kinds of lettuce, kale, three kinds of green beans, peas, potatoes,...” Topping noticed Bartholomew's whole body become energized while he talked about the vegetables he wanted to plant. His hands were moving differently for each vegetable he mentioned. He was standing and moving from side to side. His eyes were looking at everyone, excited to engage and share his vision. Topping almost laughed out loud. “...and celery, beets, and sweet potatoes. I think I also want to grow some green onions and maybe try out some artich...”

“I'm done,” announced Mr. McBardon as he got up from the chair, dumping Oliver unceremoniously to the floor. He shuffled to the door and walked out without saying goodbye. A moment later everyone in the living room let out a little laugh.

“How old is that guy?” asked Topping.

“I don't know,” said Bartholomew.

Uncle Jeffrey quickly interjected, “He's got to be eighty-eight years or so. He might be needing our help with gardening this summer. I'm not sure what he is capable of. So, be kind. I think this garden means a lot to him.”

“Yes,” added Aunt Josephine, “I think he is excited to do something active, something he used to do when he was younger – not so close to the end.”

“I'm worried I'm going to find him dead in the garden,” said Claire.

“Oh, Claire, how could you?” scolded Charlotte.

Topping, Bartholomew and Ned laughed. Bartholomew had noticed Ned was not very engaged in the meeting. He sat quietly next to Claire. “Hey, Ned, what do you want to grow?” asked Bartholomew.

“Oh, I don't care. I'll just help you guys out where I can and then bring some stuff home now and again. I don't really know what I would eat. I'll just help.”

The group spent the next half hour plotting out where they would grow everything. Mr. McBardon's plot was put out toward the railroad tracks. There were so many vegetables Bartholomew wanted to grow that he had his own plot for the vegetables other people were not interested in. Topping had a fence, a tool shed and a sitting area in his design for the garden. Everyone decided to wait to install those the second year, if there was one. Topping also had identified a spot for Claire's chickens, if the garden ever became that established. Claire was elated that Topping thought of her chickens. Charlotte was slightly annoyed that Topping thought of Claire's chickens. Finally, it was decided that Bartholomew and Uncle Jeffrey would buy the seeds and plants in ten days and everyone would prepare the garden and plant it in two weeks.

Once they were done with the planning of the garden, Topping asked Bartholomew if they could talk for a minute. They carried the food and lemonade into the kitchen.

“What's up?” asked Bartholomew.

“I need your car. Uncle Cy's shop has an opening and I need to have your car in the next day or two so I can paint it.”

“Oh yeah..., my car,” Bartholomew said with some hesitation as he peered into the living room to see where Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine were.

“You still want to get it painted, don't you?” asked Topping.

“Yes, of course, I just...”

Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine walked in to the kitchen and started putting things away.

“So, I can pick up your car on Tuesday? I'll have it back to you by the time we plant the garden,” said Topping.

“Is this about painting your father's car?” asked Aunt Josephine.

“Bartholomew, you know we don't approve of your painting your father's car like this,” added Uncle Jeffrey.

“Yes, painting it a color is one thing, but flames? Your father would turn over in his grave,” said Aunt Josephine.

“Bartholomew, as I told you, the car is not a collector's car or an antique, but it is rare around here and it is in very good condition. I don't want you doing something to it that would...ruin it somehow,” warned Uncle Jeffrey.

“I don't have to paint it,” offered Topping.

“No,” said Bartholomew. “I want you to paint it. I can't stand that pink stripe down the side. And I want it looking cool – with flames. Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine, I have seen the drawings Topping has made and he is a very good artist. You would be impressed, too, if you saw them. Topping is a good car painter. I want him to do it.”

“Well, I wish you would reconsider. But it is your car. We can't force you to do anything you don't want to,” said Uncle Jeffrey. Then he and Aunt Josephine left the kitchen to straighten the living room.

“You sure you want to do this?” asked Topping.

“Yeah, absolutely,” responded Bartholomew.

“And you want flames?” asked Topping.

“Absolutely,” said Bartholomew.
Topping couldn't help but sense that Bartholomew was not so keen on the flames. His agreeing to flames seemed more out of a sense of duty – that he wouldn't go back on his word. Topping thought of the excitement and anticipation he saw in Bartholomew's eyes when he talked about growing vegetables. That's what he wanted to see in Bartholmew's eyes when they talked about painting flames on his car.

“I've been thinking,” said Topping, “would you mind if I changed the design some? There are some changes I think you would like. I don't have time to sketch them up and show you.”

Exasperated, Bartholomew said, “These changes aren't because of Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine are they?”

“No, not at all, they have nothing to do with them. It's just that I think you would like a few changes from what we originally planned. It's not much. Trust me.”

Bartholomew eyed Topping with uncertainty.

“Trust me.”
Written by Mark Granlund 
Illustrations by Mark Granlund

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

25 - Claire Speaks Out

“Isn't this exciting?” chirped Charlotte to Claire who smiled nervously back.

“Yeah,”said Topping, “I think it's great you have gotten into this spoken word thing. It's so cool.”

Claire blushed, but not for long as her mind refocused on memorizing her words.

Ned sat beside Claire, and Bartholomew settled into a seat behind Ned and put his hand reassuringly on Claire's shoulder. Claire didn't acknowledge the support but kept rehearsing silently.

The theater was packed. Except for a handful of performance veterans and a few parents, it was wall to wall young people. Busy voices buzzed as the vibe of good energy and hormones pushed to the ceiling. The room darkened, the crowd hushed only slightly and a middle-aged Latina woman walked to the mic.

“Welcome to Slam104!” A cheer went up from the crowd. The woman on stage waved at people in the crowd she knew and waited for the cheer to come down. “I am 'Rissa...” another cheer, “and I want to thank you all for coming out tonight to help us celebrate the power of our voices.” Another cheer went up from the frothing rolling and boiling sea of youth. “Tonight we have some amazing talent lined up for you. Some are veterans, some have been performing for a short while and some will perform for the first time. At Slam104 we work to bring a voice to those who often don't have one and to those who need one. If you are interested in becoming a part of our community, you can talk with me afterward or talk with Tony Curtis. Tony, stand up.”

A big man in the front row wearing a colorful sweater and a leather hat stood up and raised his arm to the crowd. A cheer went up. He sat down and 'Rissa continued. “Alright, let's get this party started!” A big cheer. “Let's give it up for our first performer who comes from right here in this neighborhood, JoJo!” Clapping and cheering greeted a young petite woman to the stage.

     I am JoJo and I am sad this day – and every day.
      Cuz when I walk down my street I wonder which way
     I should turn.
     Turn like you, turn like me, turn like those who don't want
     people to turn.
      All I know is I must turn. So I turn and I turn and I turn until I...

JoJo's performance continued and faded in and out of Claire's consciousness. “Turn, I turn, must turn,” thought Claire's brain. Next up was a young man named Mouse. He wore thick-framed glasses and a cotton print flower shirt. His performance was punctuated by rhythmically yelling “burn it down, build it up!” fifty times and then bowing his head and leaving the stage. The crowd cheered loudly. “Burn it up, build it down,” seeped into Claire's brain.

The next several performances drifted through Claire's internal performance. She’d occasionally snag a line or phrase on the rough surfaces of her concentration. Her friends were enjoying themselves. Topping and Charlotte seemed to be having the most fun, yelling and cheering for most of the performers. Bartholomew liked some of the performances more than others and would lean forward and say something to Ned after most of them. Ned responded by nodding in agreement or by laughing. Ned, for his part, found most of the performances a bit tedious. He couldn't understand why everybody was yelling their lines. They all seemed angry.

Tony Curtis walked up to the mic. The theater hushed. In a strong calm voice he began:
     I am a man
     Sure as you are what you are.
     I am large, powerful. Do I intimidate you? Do I inspire you? I am a man.
     I look over this crowd and I see my past. I used to dream, too.
     Yes, I used to dream, but I do not anymore. My past is no comfort. I am a man.
     I used to dream of a Land of Promise,a place called Hope.
     My dreams have left me empty, though many have come true. I am a man.
     I see you all taking the flame into your hearts, seeking to cross the Jordan.
     I take pride in your hope and your passion and... I... lift... you... up. I am a man.
     My time has passed, I no longer carry the flame.
     Some would call me cynical, some lazy. Perhaps I'm jus' tired y'all. I am a man.
     I am not angry, I am not haunted, I am not lost.
     I know who I am. I no longer struggle and question. I am a man.
     I have grown beyond the struggle you now take up – the struggle you use to define yourself.
     When I look at you I do not see 'the future,' I see what has always been and always will be. I am a man.
     I see a school of fish in a stream, one of many streams full of fish all heading to an ocean full of even more fish.
     The ocean you swim in is not made of water. It is made of Love. I am a man.
     To struggle is to sharpen one's mind. To love is to soften one's heart.
     Youth is drawn to struggle, but the Elders understand the true life is of the heart. I am a man.
     It has been a long road to where I am and deviations were part of the journey.
     Your journey is just beginning, what deviations lay ahead no one knows. I am a man.
     Sure as you are what you are.
     I am a man.


Tony stepped away from the mic and his footsteps rang through the theater as he walked to his seat. The silence lingered like a thick soft frost clinging to tree branches. 'Rissa came forward and leaned into the mic. “Now, we have a first timer, Claire.”

There was tepid applause as people were still inside Tony's performance. Claire's friends, especially Charlotte, patted her on the shoulders and gave her encouragement as she rose from her seat. Tony Curtis smiled and gave her a thumbs up as she made her way to the stage. The mic was just a bit too high for Claire, She tried to adjust it but it wouldn't budge. She cleared her throat and raised up on her toes. She began:

“I, um, I,” Claire flicked the hair out of her eyes and went flatfoot. “I mean, I can't imagine...oh, okay.” Claire searched for the first few words of her performance. She was nervous but if she could remember the first sentence she would be fine. Back up on her toes, she began:

     I can't imagine what it will be like once this planet is done with us.
     When I heard the bluebird call, its sweet voice singing in my heart,
     I loved this world with its beauty and majesty and...

Claire went flatfoot her eyes looking inside her head for clarity. Back on her toes.

     ...its sweet voice singing in my heart,
     I loved this world with its beauty, majesty and heart.
     The trees sway in the wind and call my name. Claire, Claire, Claire.

Topping adjusted his seat. Ned was heard giving a sigh. Bartholomew sat quiet, his mind drifting off to kale. The air in the theater shifted, Tony Curtis' performance was very quickly gone and replaced with something writhing in pain. Charlotte beamed at Claire, devouring her every letter, her every movement.

     I and the world, this planet, are one.
     You can't tell me anything different. I know it is true.
     Chickens and I have a million year history. We speak the same language.

Ned sunk down in his chair. A quiet “ba-gaack” was heard from the back of the room. A few people laughed lightly. Claire did not hear, the driver and pushers were in and heads down in this bobsled of a performance.

     But they did not care for you, oh Earth. No.
     The Man dissed you and choked you and raped you.      

     And his henchmen and that stupid Mayor Dick laugh and spit on you.
     They think we cannot see, but I can. And I can hear you, too. 
     Do you hear me Mayor Dick? I can hear you. 
     I can hear you like an atom bomb. 
     I can hear you Mayor Dick! You are ruining the thing I love.
     You are ruining me.” 
Claire's voice cracked. She was breathing heavy and paused to compose herself. She did not pause long enough. 


Tears were streaming down Claire's face, her nose was running. Her eyes pleaded with the audience to come to her side, to join her in shouting down the horror she was witnessing. The crowd was quiet.

“Remember the chickens,” Claire said and left the stage. She did not go back to her chair but walked out the side door and collapsed on the loading dock of the theater. Claire could not catch her breath and heaved heavy sobs into the dark night sky.

“Cawww!” said an old friend. “Chickens? What about me? Remember me?”

Claire's mouth was so full of embarrassment she could not speak. So the crow did.

“Child! Still can't find your bridge, can you? You have no home. You have no...cawww!”

The crow melted into the night as Charlotte came out the door. She said nothing and came to sit next to Claire. She wrapped her in her arms – and her friendship. There they sat, the both of them. Both crying. A moment later, the guys were there. Bartholomew and Topping hopped down off the dock and stood in front of Claire and Charlotte and joined the hug. Ned paused. He stared blankly at her while his eyes looked inside his own head for clarity. Then he knelt down, kissed Claire on top of the head and put his arms around her. Cocooned in the flesh and bone of friendship, Claire let herself melt into a blubbering puddle of anguish.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Meghan Hogan