Read the stories of Dell’Arte’s ‘Stories in the Tent’

Dell’Arte International

BLUE LAKE – Dell’Arte International in collaboration with the Mad River Union is excited to announce that from over a dozen stories submitted by the Humboldt community, five have been chosen to be adapted at Stories in the Tent at the 28th Annual Mad River Festival.

From a story about a man building a pyramid in his backyard, to a woman experimenting with a rose quartz stone to disastrously hilarious effects, to an adventure about two funeral workers on a day that they will never forget, there is something for everyone!

The stories that will be performed are “13 Bernadettes” by Julie Benbow and performed by Rebecca Finney, “The Pyramid” by Sarama Teague and performed by Lucius Robinson, “The Soft-Handed People” by Peter Mehren and performed by Evan Grande, “The Rose Quartz” by an anonymous Blue Laker and performed by Alyssa Hughlett, and “The Lights” by David Johnson and performed by Michael Donovan and Tushar Mathew.

Stories in the Tent will be performed in the Pierson Big Hammer Tent, 131 H St. in Blue Lake on Tuesday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m. Entry to the event is free and suitable for everyone.

Spoiler alert – read the submitted Stories in the Tent below! 

For more details, call (707) 668-5663 or visit dellarte.com.

Ruzzante Comes Homes From the War continues this weekend at the Mad River Festival, and...

Red Light in Blue LAKE: An Adult Cabaret

• Date & Time:

Friday, June 29 and Saturday, June 30 at 10:30 p.m.

Location: Carlo Theatre, Blue Lake

Admission: $20 Presale; $25 Door

The Mad River Festival’s tantalizing, late night adults-only cabaret featuring a dazzling array of acts by the award-winning Dell’Arte Company.

The stories of Stories in the Tent

“The Rose Quartz” by an anonymous Blue Laker and performed by Alyssa Hughlett

Every single word of this story is true. It actually happened. Recently.

I have a piece of rose quartz, about the size of an egg, but rough, with angles and edges. It is raw, unpolished. It feels like those salt crystal lamps, the surface is kind of soft and oily. It’s translucent pink, some areas a little lighter than others, almost white, with hints of amber here and there. I carry it in my pocket sometimes.

My mom puts a piece of rose quartz at the bottom of a glass she drinks water from to benefit from it’s healing properties. Maternal love is it’s promise. Roses and their color carry a message of love she tells me. My grandma was a mean bitch to my mom, so I see why she does it. My mom is a sweetie to me, by the way.

Anyhow, I had been going through a particularly rough time this year, so I’ve been carrying this stone around a lot. I started sleeping with it too, leaving it on my bedside table, and on tough nights I would reach over for it and cradle it in my palm against my heart like a teddy bear. It was comforting and it kind of made me giggle. Clutching a hard, cold stone for comfort. The futility of it.

Well, one night I masturbated with it. It’s rough, cool surface felt good and was good for rubbing parts. And that also made me giggle. How fucking Humboldt of me. Masturbating with a crystal.

A few weeks later, I did it again, but I guess I felt just a little more confident, or frisky, or whatever, and I started playing around with inserting it in my vagina.

So, I should mention here that that night I sent a prayer up to my higher self, the way I had been practicing with my energy worker (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP). I asked my higher self to help me love and heal my beautiful, delicate vagina. And I clutched that rose quartz as I said it and cupped my hand over my womb.

Then, I masturbated with the stone. At a certain point (I’m pretty sure it was after I orgasmed) I realized that I couldn’t get the rose quartz out. My vagina had sucked it right up. NO LIES. I tried to dig it out with a spoon, which just succeeded in pushing it further back towards my cervix, so, after a brief moment of incredulous panic, I decided to sleep on it (it was almost midnight) and call the clinic in the morning to make an appointment. WTF have I done  is what I mulled over as I fell asleep. I was a little worried, but also I couldn’t even tell it was in me. And it was clean (I had washed it thoroughly) so, what was the harm?

I woke up laughing when I remembered I had a rose quartz hopelessly stuck in my vagina, and that I would have to explain this to a few people at the clinic.

So, the clinic was totally obliging (they have very good manners) and that day around two I lay on the exam table with my feet in the stirrups as the doctor, a spry, frizzy grey haired woman with small hands, rooted around in me, trying to get a grip on the fucker. She kept bemoaning her smalls hands, but I think they were the key to her success. It was the second time that week that she was called to retrieve an object from someone’s vagina (the other one was a rogue IUD) and both were firsts in her 40 year career. I was thrilled when she finally got it out of me, which she left me to wash for myself. Which I did.

To be honest, I was surprised she had never encountered a similar situation before. Is that weird?

She was surprised that I enjoyed using the rock for masturbating: “It’s so rough!”. I guess everybody’s different. I like the way it feels. Then she asked me: “So, how are you going to prevent this from happening again?” and I said: “How about never putting it into my vagina again?” (duh). I had learned my lesson.

Later, i thought about how I had considered leaving the rock in my vagina for a while, so it could do it’s work thoroughly. However, I am glad it’s out. I am glad it got in (for a little while) and I like just carrying it in my pocket again. It makes me giggle to think of it.

 

“The Soft-Handed People” by Peter Mehren and performed by Evan Grande

“You’re finally smart enough to talk with,” my paternal grandfather said to me, as he put a leather-bound book on the dining-room table between us that morning. “You drink coffee, you listen, you’re starting to realize that you don’t know everything.”

   He put his hand on the book. “This is something like a diary, or a memoir. When I was about your age, or when I became what he thought was smart enough to talk with, my grandfather, your great-great grandfather, started telling me about his life, which, of course, shaped my father and then me, and, you may now realize, shaped your father, which means it shaped you.”

   He sipped his coffee. “Good. You kept quiet and thought about that. Good. Okay. Now, here’s the first thing: each of us men, same line, has been different from his father. Interesting, isn’t it? I sort of think that for a thousand years or even more, every son may have been a bit different, what with being half from their mothers, but the opportunities were the same: get born, do what your father did, and die. And each and all of them lived at least long enough to be a father, whether disease or injury or war killed them the next day or, like my grandfather and me, close to ninety years after we were born.

   “So, I’m going to tell you, now,, about my grandfather, and therefore about each of we men in the line, including you. And then I’ll give you my journal, here, and you can compare what I’ll have said, now, with what I wrote then. I’ve just read it again, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it interesting, ‘cause you’re interested in many things and you’re interested in how the here and now happened.

   “It starts with my grandfather’s father, at least what he could remember of him, what with having left his home somewhere on the other side of  the Atlantic when he was probably in his early ‘teens.

   “He didn’t know his age, when he was born, nor where he was from, besides a farm.

His older brother and sister decided to leave wherever it was, and to take him. Why?

Never learned. Parents died? Maybe. Other siblings took over the farm and they had no prospects there? Maybe. A war, whether local over religion or international over whatever? Maybe. In any case, they left wherever it was they were from, and went to Antwerp and got on a ship, and took 30 days crossing to New York. They were, they told him, seasick every day, but they didn’t miss a meal. Imagine that.

   “And they got to New York and couldn’t answer any of the questions, ‘cause they were in English, and they didn’t know English. Or any of the other languages people tried on them, they said.

   “So this clerk, he got the first names of his brother and sister, Jacob and Veronica, which probably meant that they were some sort of Christians. But when the clerk pointed at my grandfather, none of them could pronounce his given name. His brother and sister had pantomimed farm work, so he gave them the last name ‘Farmer’; and he called my grandfather ‘John,’ a good, simple, not foreign name. He wrote it on my grandpa’s document, and, he told me, he practiced tracing it with his finger, ‘John Farmer,’ until he could do it without looking; and then he took a pencil, this was by the time they got to San Francisco, which he never knew why they went there, and he was able to write, or, more precisely, to draw his signature, and he was inordinately proud of being able to sign things, documents and such.

   “John Farmer. So, his old identity, whatever it might have been, was erased. If he even had a ‘family name.’”

   “And he got a job, while he was still in his early teens, physical work, you understand, with not much skill and not much English involved. But he picked up some English. Then Veronica got married and moved away, as he understood it; and then his brother got married, and started having babies, and my grandfather heard that there was work cutting trees up here, and he was tired of the city dirt and the crowds and all the languages and such, so he packed whatever he had, and moved to Eureka, and got a job.

   “And after a couple of years of cutting trees until Winter, then working in the mills or building houses as Eureka got more people, John Farmer got a full-time job in a lumber mill. And he got paid, and almost instantly recognized that money was the way to a nicer life. So he didn’t smoke or drink with the other men, or play cards, or, when the ladies came around with their tents on pay days, he only went once, and squirted when the lady touched him, and figured that he could squirt himself for free, and so he put most of his earnings into the local bank, so it couldn’t get stolen, probably.

   “And then, a few years later, he got married to someone’s daughter who, it seems, spoke some English and some other language. But think about it, how much do you have to be able to talk to each other to be happy? ‘Dinner’s ready”; and ‘You awake?’ What else? Sure, some other things, but,  really, not much to be happy. In fact, despite the occasional frustrations about not being sure what the other one meant, talking can cause more troubles than not talking. Pointing, nodding, smiling or frowning, doing simple arithmetic: pretty much enough. And his children could speak English so much better than he could, ‘cause it was their language and they got to go to school.

   “And here’s what he said to me, what he noticed over his, who knows, close to ninety years. And he was a man whose hands were so rough from working without gloves, he could strike a match on his palm, to light a lamp or whatever. He said to me that what he called the ‘soft-handed men’ were making all the money, or at least much more than he was, so he wanted his sons, including, of course, my father, to have soft hands.

   “The owners of the forests, now, there’s a concept, anyway, they bought the trees the men cut down, for less than the wood was worth; and they got them milled into boards, and sold the wood for more than it was worth. Some of the logs and boards went on to the trains, and shipped away, and some was used to build simple houses for the newcomers and the big, fancy houses, the mansions, the owners got the workers to build during Winter, when it was impractical to cut trees. And their hands stayed soft, and they got richer and richer.

   “And my grandfather and his wife and the children did well enough. And he made sure than my father got to go to school through eighth grade and then got a job, and his hands stayed soft. And he got married and me and your great-aunts and uncles happened, and he made sure that I got all the way through high school, and I got a job with the county, and got promoted all the way to Sacramento.

   “And I made sure that your father and your uncles got college or even university, and one of your aunts did and, you know, was a teacher, and another was a nurse, and the others just got married.

   “But your father was like my grandfather, in that he didn’t like the noise and dirt and crowds of the big city, in his case Sacramento, so he went back to where he’d visited his grandparents and so on, and went to Humboldt State, and got a job where his hands didn’t stay soft. And he got married and things.

   “And here you are.

   “And it’s interesting to me, that each of us, these men, has been different in our own ways, different interests, different directions, different paths; but still, somehow, somewhat the same because each of us was, so to speak, half of his father, you know, genetics-wise.

   “And here you are, and your hands are soft, and you’re smart, like all of us were in our own ways, and you may have to make some decisions or else they’ll be made for you by the soft-handed, rich men.

   “Now, here’s the notebook.  You read it, if you want to, and you can compare it, what I wrote then, with what I’ve just told you, and you can think about it, and if you want to talk about it with me, do it pretty soon,  ‘cause I’m closing in on 90, and it’s a damn interesting story.”

   And he finished his coffee, got up, took his cup to the kitchen and washed it, and said, “I’m going for my walk now.”

 

“The Pyramid” by Sarama Teague and performed by Lucius Robinson

So there's this Pyramid in my backyard I started building in '92.  Built it thinking that if shit goes down New Year’s Eve 1999, and aliens throw some thunder bolts and set the whole world on fire, this Pyramid might save my life.  But after I built it, I kinda forgot about it. Never put anything in it other than a case of beer.  New Year's ‘99 came and I spent it at some party in some kid's basement, my Pyramid lonely and abandoned.  Same thing my ex-wife would tell me eighteen years later: I built the marriage and then abandoned her in it.  That’s what she called it—I call it paying bills—but I digress. (Man… back in ’92 though, the idea of marriage had never even took a flying shit on my horizon.  I was a free man, and my eyeline stretched from here to the edge of the world.)

So I built the Pyramid and forgot all about it until the other night when I ran out of alcohol.  Doesn't happen much, but my check to the cable company bounced, which made some other shit go deficit, and the proverbial fountain ran the fuck dry.  No TV and no booze.  Damn. It's enough to make a man a dull boy.  But then I remembered: “Oh there’s a case of beer in the Pyramid that’s about—mmm—twenty-one years old right now!”  Twenty-one was about how old I was when I built the Pyramid, you know. I was always a sharp hand with laying cement and knocking together boards, and I crafted this Pyramid like a veritable fucking temple.  Couldn’t really tell you where the idea for it came from; it was like a dream I had. A message to get ready for 1999.

The Apocalypse didn’t happen, Y2K or whatever, but it was that New Year’s that I met my ex-wife.  We didn’t fuck around or anything right then, but after that party she had a thing for me. That was back when I had potential.  

This five acres I live on used to be a parcel of one-hundred-and-twenty-fucking-acres, starting when it belonged to my daddy.  I've lived here most all my life and since I was a kid there has always been fat bushy ladies covering at least half of it. That’s when the price of marijuana was still worth a shit.  But it all went to hell ten years back, not too long after my son was born. And it wasn’t the flooded market, or the Feds, or even some nasty plant-plague that shut down the grow and forced me to sell most of my property—it was fucking locusts, man.  Whoever heard of locusts in Humboldt County? That’s some biblical shit, like the smiteful hand of God. So some timber and ag people gave me just half of what it was worth and now I spend my days watching those rich bastards raking it in, hand over fist, off what used to be my legacy.  Just like them fucking Pharaohs.

So, I go out back and let me tell you, it had been years since I’d stepped foot out there.  The grass was up over my head like it was Vietnam or something. The moon was just this tiny sliver, and it was so dark in those tall weeds.  Foot caught on the lawnmower rotting abandoned some hundred feet out and I went face-first into a damn rock. Nearly busted my skull. I put on my headlamp (which was in my pocket like a goddamned idiot), and looked up to see the Pyramid emerge out of the shadows.  For a moment it was like some majestic thing of the past, the stars rough jewels in the sky behind it. And I was sorry that I had ever abandoned the thing and went to that party in that puke basement and met Shelly and all the sorry shit that’s happened ever since then, until now.  

Back then, Shelly was all shiny-eyed for me.  Up until she married me, but hell, maybe the sheen wore off beforehand.  But probably… probably, that happened the day Matthew was born. She was scheduled for a C-section that day, and I knew that—of course I knew that—but the bottle found me first, so the first time I saw my son was when Shelly found me face-down in the living room, three days later.  All I remember of that day are their faces, so vivid in the midst of all that fog lying so thick over the valley it obscured even the tree-line. Matthew's eyes: blue, innocent, and vulnerable. Behind that, Shelly's absolute cat-in-water fury. Oh, and the pain that split my head and heart open when Shelly rolled me on my back and I realized what I had done.  

I saw the Pyramid and ran for the door, desperate, because I hate when I get to thinking about Shelly and Matthew.  It doesn’t do any good to dwell. What is done is done. Need a drink to help me remember that. (Now, contrary to what I may have led you to believe, I don’t hit the bottle hard all day long.  It’s strictly beer until 9 pm and I pace myself on those beers, too. Just sip. But after 9, man, if I don’t get some tequila in me, it’s rough times.) I pulled on that doorknob and it was locked.  

But it’s been twenty-fucking-years and I was kind of a lazy asshole about installing the door handle to begin with, and lying right there on the ground is an old brick.  Like a sign from God it was, and I gave the handle a good rap and the door popped right open.  But instead of being a case of beer like I expected, it was a bottle of tequila.  My favorite and most expensive kind, bathed in the light from my headlamp like some genie-lamp in Aladdin’s cave.  I stopped—surprised, you know—but rushed inside and bam! Pyramid door slammed shut behind me. Shut and locked—still don't get that—and not a goddamned window in the place, except a few skinny slots in the ceiling for light.

So I had myself some tequila.  What else was I supposed to do?  Sat down on the bench and took a load off.  And if you’re wondering, that was some of the best tequila I've ever had.  Made every other tequila seem like dick-sweat. Doesn't age they say; as long as it's unopened, it'll last you forever.  I sat there savoring that old familiar rush, when I saw a magnifying glass sitting behind where the bottle had been. Don’t ask me why or how it got there to begin with, but it was ornate and old-looking, like something from Atlantis.  The lens looked like crystal and the handle was some of the most beautiful metal work I have ever seen.

And on sight, I hated the damn thing.  Chucked it across the room, hard against the cement wall, but it didn’t break.  

That was the first day.  I quit all that yelling and screaming out the keyhole after maybe Day Two.  I live at the end of an old mountain road, long-time abandoned. Loggers and farmers got their own roads they use.  No point in screaming, I decided, and sat down and finished off more of that tequila. Day Three is when I gave up on smashing down the door.  (And I battered for hours at that bastard door, in an awe-ful rage at what must be one of the most impotent and self-loathsome deaths a man could suffer: locked in the goddamned Pyramid all because my piece-of-shit-alcoholic-self couldn’t go one night without a lick of booze—and still that door stood.)  And now, Day Four, I’m all tapped out. If anyone decided to come check on me—which I don’t get a lot of visitors these days—I can't even yell. Memories of Shelly and Matthew dancing like fairies through my head, and damn, all those sugar-plum smiles hurt. Too weak to fight 'em off though. Been laying slumped against the wall for the past day, next to the pile of guts I puked up in the wee hours of Day Three.  Damn tequila. But what's done is done.

***

It was the first day locked in here that I dismantled the bench.  Used the pointy end on the magnifier to wheedle out the screws I put in 21 years ago.  I was thinking I could use the bench leg to smash the door down. Imagine my shock when I pulled the leg off and found a note scrawled on the back side:

The magnifying glass will set you free.

You hear that folks?  “Set you free.” Now I didn’t write that note, I don’t know who did, and I especially don’t know when the fuck they did it either—but it certainly seems like that note was written for me.  

So I tried the magnifier handle on the door hinges but goddamn if those screws weren't warped and rusted on.  Stripped them right up, even though the builder in me knows better, knows that's the rope-drop on the hangman's noose, but desperation took over.  And wouldn't stop until it had me all used up, panting and sobbing on the floor. Doesn't matter if I popped those hinges out anyways, I told myself.  When I put that door on I shimmied it right proper so it wouldn't ever come off. Aliens, you know.

So I’ve been sitting here for four days with a magnifying-glass, self-scrutinizing, and the only conclusion I come to is I’m gonna die soon.  I guess that's freedom. Ha, ha, funny. I’d laugh, but I think my voice box has shriveled up. Not enough juice to make it go. I've even stopped pissing.  One thing though: my life wasn’t much and I gave away a lot of it, but now I know I want to keep the rest.

Maybe I deserve this.  After my father died I moved us from town back to this house in the hills and Shelly didn't like it at-fucking-all.  A few hours of winding highway from the coast and she hated being so isolated in the midst of all these trees and all these hills.  She wanted the ocean, crashing and stretching out to the very edge of the world, but I didn't listen. Who the fuck wants to spend all their time knocking together boards so they can pay rent on some other man's house?  These hills belonged to me and here I was free, cultivating the ladies, making the real money. Which I did. Until the locusts hit and destroyed our crop, adding more brew to the shit-cauldron-of-life, and I guess I just couldn’t handle the portion ladled out to me.  But I still drank it down. The black-outs were frequent; did some shit that wasn’t very nice and that I don’t quite remember. Shelly did though. She remembered real good.

Marriage limped along.  I guess Shelly stayed with me because she didn’t have anything better to do.  That and a boy needed his father. If ever a boy needed a walking bottle, he had it.  We made it another six years somehow and then she left. That was 5 years ago now. Back then I told anyone who would listen that she was a gold-digger who didn't want me after I lost my funds, but now I understand that maybe she didn't want me after I lost my soul.  

***

It’s night and even though the moon ain’t much bigger than it was four days ago, I can see everything.  My eyes must have adjusted to the darkness, but still, it sure looks like that magnifying glass over there, just out of reach, is glowing.  Like a flying saucer in the sky.

I stare at it for a good long time to be sure.  Blinking seems to be something I hardly need to do anymore.  Feel like a goddamn beached fish: there’s a hard glaze on my eyes, but damn, that magnifying glass is lighting up like a beacon, growing so bright it hurts, and I throw myself at the glass (to throw it smash it make it stop), my body twitching jerking flopping out of my control—but I wrap my hands around the magnifier and immediately the blinding light dims to a gentle glow.  Relief. I lay on my belly, hands stretched above my head, lungs gasping and gulping, and coming from my hands, I hear singing. I shit you not, singing. Soft gentle womans’ voices. Soothing. Healing. Enticing. I drag the magnifying glass to my eye and there's the ocean. Sand, sunlight, and the mouth of some river, emptying out in the crashing waves. It's hard not to believe I’m lying on the bank next to it.  

But  because I’ve always been a skeptical motherfucker and I just want to know, I pull the glass away from my eye and look around.  Nope. Still in the Pyramid. Well, fuck this place. I look back through the glass. Reach for the water and my hands are gloriously fucking wet.  I don’t care if it’s imaginary death water; I drag myself over and drink from it and let me tell you, imaginary death water is the most nourishing stuff I’ve ever had.  I pour it over my head and face, laughing. It’s pure life, saturating my veins, rejuvenating my soul, and next to me on this bank is an apple.  The biggest apple I ever saw.  Magnificent, shining, red. I can smell its sweetness and see its taut skin bursting with life.  

Either I’m dead or I’m free, but this feels like rhapsody.  I reach for the apple, feeling the breeze sweep over my skin.  Just grinning.  Shelly once brought me an apple juice bursting into my mouth, saliva rushing to meet the swallow of life—no, the piece of universe—between my teeth.  

***

Darkness.  

Peace.

And then

“Johnny.”  Echoey and painfully loud.  “Johnny.”

Fucking Christ on a skewer...  ... Michelle? My Shelly? I peel one eye open, and her scowl filling my eyeline feels better than water to a man stranded in the desert.  And I grin the biggest fool grin.

“The C-section is today!  Wake up!”

I take a breath to reply.  And instead, cough on the dry sand left between my teeth.

 

“13 Bernadettes” by Julie Benbow and performed by Rebecca Finney

As a child in the 1950s in England, I attended a Catholic school run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart where, by age six, I had developed a special devotion to coloring, and to Baby Jesus, whose sweet pink face smiled at me from pictures on holy cards and the cover of my prayer book.

To instill Christian values into our lives, the nuns regaled us with scary stories about the less fortunate children in the world, especially those who lived in a place called The Dark Continent. We knew where this was because there was a large world map on the classroom wall. Africa, colored in sunshine yellow, was called the Dark Continent because it was a Heathen Land where courageous white missionaries worked tirelessly to bring the light of God’s message to the natives. Sister Mary Joseph also told us about the poor, unfortunate babies who would - without receiving the gift of grace through baptism – end up in a dreaded place called Limbo, where they would stay for eternity never to see the face of God. These innocents were called Pagan Babies.

This image – of tiny naked black babies in the dark, banished to Limbo with no chance of redemption – filled my imagination and each night I prayed for their doomed souls.

One day in Catechism class we were all given a sheet of paper and the news that we could save the Pagan Babies from Eternity in Limbo. The paper showed an outline drawing of steps leading up to a throne where God the Father with a long beard sat surrounded by Angels. On every fourth step stood a Pagan Baby. Sister Mary Joseph explained that each step represented three pence. For one shilling (four three pences) we could baptize and give a Christian name to a Pagan Baby, thus ensuring its salvation and a place with God in Heaven.  

There were enough steps to baptize and save the souls of five babies.

This was the news I had been praying for – a way that I could save these tiny souls from an eternity in Limbo. I was sold. I was hyped. Plus, you could only color the steps after you paid for them!

There was, however, a problem. I did not have an income, nor any ready funds. I pleaded with my parents, explaining the obvious worthiness of the cause. My passionate plea was not particularly eloquent. It netted me one step. I colored it red and put my mind to work on how I was going to get the next three (green, purple, and blue) for my first Pagan Baby.

Stuck on red seemingly forever, I watched in alarm as other classmates went up and up, saving souls and coloring steps. I began to panic, I had to raise some money. Then I hit upon a solution: I would take it from the stash my mother had hidden in a purse at the back of her bedroom closet.  I knew she had a lot of spare three-pence pieces, collecting them from change in her wallet and the coins my daddy took out of his trouser pockets at night.

So I started saving souls. Every day my sister and I walked home for lunch, after which I would disappear to wash my hands and - with a thumping heart - sneak into my parents’ bedroom. I began conservatively, just taking one coin. And not every day. But as I watched my steps quickly turn into a rainbow staircase, I threw caution to the wind and began sneaking sweaty handfuls. My rainbow staircase was the envy of all my classmates.

My first three Pagan Babies I named Bernadette, after my favorite saint, during the solemn weekly baptismal service held in our classroom. By Christmas I had saved 13 souls all who had the name Bernadette. I had completed two staircases to God and was busy working on the third.

My parents received a letter from Sister Mary Joseph commending their support.

Much surprised, my parents sat me down and questioned my ability to afford such philanthropic largesse. As much as I wanted, no believable lies came to mind so, with a flip-flopping stomach, I reminded them of the importance of promoting God’s work in Heathen Lands; of the heartbreak of all the innocent Pagan Babies condemned to Eternity in Limbo; of the success of saving 13 of the many precious souls waiting, waiting. After all, wasn’t this better than just praying for them to be saved? I knew they would agree.

They didn’t.  They were unimpressed by my missionary zeal. They had a problem with my soul-saving fervor.

I was in BIG trouble. My father explained the grim reality to me: I had stolen money and broken number seven of the ten commandments; I had lied to a few people (number nine of the ten commandments); I had dishonored both him and my mother (number four of the ten commandments), and if that wasn’t bad enough, I had also deeply offended Baby Jesus.

I was horrified. I knew of no other person on earth who had broken three of the ten commandments at one time! My dad’s mustache bristled, his pipe bobbed up and down in reproach, and I saw my dreams of becoming Sr. Julie Super-soul-saver disappear My shrill argument that it was God’s will to help save the Pagan Babies fell on deaf ears. I was devastated. And punished.

Later, as I lay in my bed hungry and wet faced and looking forward to an allowance and candy-free future, I knew that, even though my pagan baby soul-rescuing career was over, it had been great while it lasted. Somewhere in Africa there were 13 Bernadettes safe from an Eternity in Limbo.

 

“The Lights” by David Johnson and performed by Michael Donovan and Tushar Mathew.

The bosses office seemed classic. A nice desk, chairs, lamp, tables. It was off the ____ table room and across from the chapel. A cross, _____, podium, even a bible and sort of a fake mantle with a mirror.
There was a lot to learn in my varied tasks so I felt essential.

The boss was a bursting man. Laughter, energy, something to say. “Light me” as he sat at the desk with paperwork and his huge ashtray.
I would pick up the golden butane mega lighter and fire it just rightly.
He totally fused the cigarette and took that get down to business at once “I hope you’re all okay from that head on”

“I’m okay”.... That guy’s head stayed with me all weekend…

It crushed the life up to his head like a pair of pumpkins. “I feel like I shouldn’t have showed you.” he smoked.

“He was drunk, it makes me sober to have seen it. At least not to drive my chevy.”

The phone.

____ funeral home.

“Hello Bill, where did you say, oh sure, my wife and I go to the Rustic Inn for dinner out that way. About a mile and up the hill for a quarter mile. Okay we’re on the way.”

He hung up and snuffed the butt in the ashtray.

“We got another body. Better put on your boots and gloves, it’s snowy and cold.”

The ambulance was a warm lighted machine spearing through the snow. You would guess he would be a fast driver totally becoming one with the window and the wheel. He pulled into the Rustic Inn. “Let’s get refreshed”

I liked him because he let me drink in the bar like I was his son.

“Hey Mabel, how’s it going this fine snowy day?”

 

Mabel was dragging a bit “This blizzard makes me want to sleep late.”

“Nothing wrong with hibernation. If we could get one double whiskey and two shorties. We’re on the way to get your neighbor.”

“I heard” she’s fixing the drink “killed himself I guess, he had a squaw up there but she left… guess he couldn’t take it.”

“The winters are long without someone to keep the footsies warm” he laughed drinking.

“Maybe a hot rock but that hermit he drank too much couldn’t figure it out about the rock… anyway in a world, one less, well he was all right, that’s all”

She said.

Driving through a white sheet of snow. “This isn’t the best” I said.

“It’s the driveway on the right and up the hill” he said. “We’ll stop at The Rustic for a bite to eat after we get him… the beer was good.”

“Ya. Mabel, she thought it was about a woman broke his heart.”

“Or the weather without one. God! I don’t know we’ll even see the driveway… wait… that may have been it.”

The ambulance swerved and slowly stopped. He backed up. “It is but it’s not plowed for a while”

“I’m not sure we should try.”

“Let’s try to walk it.”

“I wish I had my other boots.”

“Here are some gloves. Get the flashlight as well.”

“We need one of those kegs of brandy that the St. Bernard’s rescue people with.”

“Except this isn’t a rescue.”

“This is a lot of snow seeing as how Harry had been out here already.”

“I can see the path. He must of walked up too.”

“Just remember the child within when you used to sled in this.”

“We had fun as kids in the kind of snow.”

The snow was quiet now, not such a storm.

“I like it out here but you might want plenty of supply.”

“Ya. I think the whole idea is to be in the warm cabin...you know… with your woman.”

“Not my wife though, she does like the Rustic Inn.”

“There it is, picture perfect.”

“Nice little cabin.”

Pull the stretcher to the door. Boss knocked.

“He’s dead,” I said.

“You never know” he opened the door.

“Until you do, I’d say he’s dead. Don’t think too hard about what you see.”

“God that’s a lot of blood...like he painted the wall.”

“A regular Jackson Pollock.”

“God!”

“Look at this.” he pointed light to a large picture of a nude Indian Woman.

“I may forget this guy but I won’t forget her. No wonder he killed himself.”

“Not too bad, he’s not very fat. This is called a stiff but I think we can get him down to the car.”

“Here we go.”

“Oof! God I’m a bloody mess.”

“I gave you the bad end, my bad, how is it.”

“Okay… my feet are frozen.”

“Here we go down hill.”

“Whoa… hells bells!! It’s starting to slide!!”

“Damn! Heavier than I thought, I’m losing it.”

“Me to! Come on, we’ve got to catch him.”

“This is easier than I thought!”

“Catch it, the county road it’s…. He’s not stopping!”

“I hear the snowplow”

“And he’ll see the red light but we don’t want…”

The snow plow is like a bull in snow as the stretcher slides under the truck as it passes.

“I cannot believe it.”

“That guy has 9 lives.”

“C’mon, let’s get our body… that was close.”

“Mabel’s gonna love this one.”

They pull the guy from the snow on the downhill side of the road.

The ambulance parked in the front of The Rustic which now has a few people.

Mabel listens intently about the luck of the suicide victim”

The boss was recounting the story as I noticed a couple off to the side. It was the woman in the picture! She was slow dancing and laughing with a tall blonde dude.

I turned away sort of hot. I could use the whiskey the boss was having, God.  I turned my mind to the conversation.
“Anyway, this funeral is on the county” he said “I sense a pine box… barely enough to pay for the lights, not to complain you know but with my expensive assistant…. Say Mabel, how about another round for the lad. “

I was young, today I was tested and a shorty beer might just explain it all.

 







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