Reverse Flip With a Half-Twist

“I don’t need you.”

“No, I suppose you don’t. No one does.”

“But I want you.”

“You’re the only one then, I’m pretty sure. But if you don’t need me, taking care of a want is a relatively simple fix. Temporary, too.”

“Why must you always look at things so squarely, so black and white? Can’t you just live for the moment?”

“I tried that and ended up worrying how long I could do it. Figured until Thursday next. Nope, mindfulness didn’t take.”

“Oooooh, you’re so exasperating. I don’t know what in the world I saw in you.”

“Couldn’t have been my sterling personality. Though the snappy repartee has its merits.”

“You think this is ‘snappy?’”

“We’re at least talking. Can I hold your hand, too?”

“Um, sure. I’d like that.”

“I don’t think I ever realized this about your hands. Soft here, firm here, and the nails…”

“Okay, I chew my nails. It’s cheaper than Xanax.”

“That might be true. I wonder which is harder, quitting Xanax or chewing your nails.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried to quit Xanax. The nails I’ve tried since I was eight. My mother and the nuns…”

“Takes discipline and maybe a lot more want-to than you might be willing to give.”

“Like I said, I want you. Maybe that’s where all my want-to goes.”

“It really doesn’t have to take all that much.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I kinda want you, too.”

“You do?”

“I’m still here talking aren’t I?”

“True. How much do you want me?”

“I want you more than… Well, let’s just say I’m the one who needs you, maybe even more than I want you. And that’s plenty.”

“That’s kind of confusing, but also kind of sweet…I think.”

“I know. My communication skills aren’t as polished as yours. And I have more rough edges than I should. But you smooth a lot of them down.”

“I like you smooth. Like your skin. I noticed you shaved.”

“Yeah. I hoped maybe we might be getting a little closer after we had this talk you wanted.”

“Why don’t we get out of here and go to my place and continue this talk. First though, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

“Okay. The men’s room is down there on the right. Where that hot guy with the bubble butt just came out.”

“So much for the smooth portion of tonight’s programing, Jennifer. I’ll be back in two minutes.”

“Bobby, when we get back to my place, I’m gonna show you something you really need. Five feet, three inches of smooth.”

“I’ll be back in one.”

“That’s my boy.”

“That’s my girl.”

Sat down and wrote that first sentence. Then I began hearing this conversation. Even envisioned the couple. But about halfway through transcribing my fictive eavesdrop, I realized the gender roles weren’t what one would think they “should” be just by “hearing” their voices.. That’s when the thought came to me of what this little exercise was all about. The roles we play, that society expects of us. Labels. Expectations. Roles. I think Jennifer and Bobby are fine just as they are. And there’s just enough weirdo, voyeur writer in me to want to be a fly on the wall back at Jennifer’s an hour from now.

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No Direction Home

Around the corner and down a way, just before the main road, two staples hold what’s left of a piece of paper to the power pole. I’d pass it in its fullness on my way to or from when snow still covered everything. It was hard to read then, weather having already faded it, the home printer’s ink running in tears down to the oiled wooden pole. But I knew it was a picture of someone’s white cat that had left the house and not returned. It could have run away, but I doubt it. It could have gone out and run afoul of a winter-hungered coyote, or maybe it got lost in the expanse of white upon which Home happened to be and a car or snowplow had sent it spinning like a snowflake to join the rest of the white on white landscape, maybe until Spring. And now all that’s left of someone’s plaintive posting for their loved one to come back are two staples and a tear of shredded hope. And I thought about the times I have been spun and hunted and lost. When I didn’t know which direction was Home, or if I even wanted to go there. When the dome of sky and the plate of earth are indiscernible from one another, and you look around you for help or escape and you know not which way is the N on the compass, let alone the road to redemption, you just have to find your way within. I once saw a litter of puppies tumbling down a hill toward the busy road upon which I sped by. There’s was nothing I could do for them, surrounded as I was by semis and fulls – the former, trucks and the latter, idiots. I filed that scene as a short loop that runs in my head and heart for thirty years. I have no idea if the little black bundles of bumptiousness hit road level and found a diverting chain link fence there (I pray so) or if a frightening inevitability ended their lives. I just know that they still live within the Home that is me, just as that cat might live in the lives of its family, or whoever saw its snowy invisibleness now indivisibly rendered in the home within them. Whether we know it or not, there will always be a Home for us, grim, gritty or glorious as it may be, in the memories of others, even strangers. Perhaps someday one of them will remember the shred of me when I passed through their day on the way Home. Theirs or mine, the direction doesn’t really matter. We’re Home.

On Day 27 of my Poem-a-Day quest, a “direction” poem. I saw the prompt and could only think of the line from Dylan…Bob, not Thomas. My taste in poets runs toward Minnesota, not Wales. Now, don’t nit-pick if this is a poem or not. It’s a first-draft expression of something within me. Let’s say it’s a prose poem, just for the sake of giving it an address in these last few days of April. A home on the way to May.

All The World Was His Stage

Will always got a perfect mark from his favorite professor. I don’t begrudge him his success. He came from pretty tough circumstances. First of his family to go to college, small rural high school and all.

Okay, I kind of resent the fact that Will Shakespeare got a reputation as “the most inventive and gifted writer our English Department has ever produced” according to a college newsletter to alums and donors.. 

Will was a nice enough guy. Quite friendly and very well-spoken. We hit it off our first week at a dorm mixer. I’d say he over-compensated for his farm boy upbringing by walking around like he was strutting on stage or something, but it did get the attention he craved. 

“Christine, I understand you write poetry,” he said as he swept up to me.

“Uh huh,” I said. “Been lucky enough to have a few things published. But I want to be a doctor, so the artist side of me will have to take a bit of a hiatus, I guess.”

“Wow, I’d love to have my words published one day. See some of my stories turned into plays, movies or even video games. Would you like to read some of them?” Will said.

“Sure,” I said. They were pretty bad. 

After that, Will was always hanging around my room. That is, if he wasn’t sucking up to the head of the English Department. 

Will made sure we always sat together in our Freshman Composition class. Soon it became, “Christine, I’m having trouble with this poem.” “Chrissie, how can I straighten out this essay?” “Chris, can you fix this story for me, pleeeeze?”

And, for whatever reason, I would help him. That more often than not, ended up with me putting aside my Organic Chem or Spanish 3 and essentially rewriting his work.

“What do you think of this?” he’d say.

“Will, you saw that on TV just last night.”

“So, it was a good story.”

“Yes, but you have to switch it up, give it a different slant, change the characters and setting, and puh-leeeze stop writing ‘should of’ when it’s ‘should HAVE.”

“Show me,” he’d say.

He was very sweet. Handsome in a gentle, long-haired, softly goateed way. I loved how he’d massage my shoulders while I turned his chicken shit prose into Chicken Kiev for Professor Kaplan. He’d enter my room with a flair, never wander in, always a grand entrance. 

And I loved how he’d softly compliment my hair, my nails, my new bedspread, the photos I’d taken from my trips to Europe and California. Oh, and my clothes, always my clothes.

He’d wear those skinny jeans with nice buttoned shirts that bordered on something from Forever 21. He even asked if he could borrow one of my peasant-sleeved blouses more than once. He was pretty skinny and could get away with wearing a size 10 or a medium. Just like me.

Next thing I know, he’s borrowed (stolen) a pair of my leggings and he’s wearing them around campus under a pair of workout shorts. As I said, he was pretty skinny and about as unathletic as a combined English/Theatre major could be 

“Will, I want my clothes back,” I told him.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Chrissie. I thought I’d try that look. Nathan loved it and he gave me a pair of his running tights to wear instead — more colorful than plain black. I’ll drop them off tomorrow.”

Nathan was Professor Kaplan. And tomorrow was never. Next thing I know, Will left school. His roommate told me he headed to New York with Kaplan to meet some of his old theatre buddies. Never came back. No note or a text or any kind of goodbye. When I got back to school for my senior year, I saw that alumni magazines with a photo of Will on the cover. It said he’d become a protegé of some writer-producer and had mounted his first off-Broadway play, which got great reviews from the New York papers.

I can’t remember if I cried the night I read that. Not that I should care what a skinny, femme, social-climbing, plagiarizing wanna-be Sam Shepard did with his life. I was headed to Duke Medical School, after all.

Will died recently. Nice obit in The Times. I was surprised when I received a letter at my Charlotte practice from a New York lawyer.

The Broadway whiz kid had mentioned me in his will. I was to receive his second Golden Globe, the one for that execrable movie that his last mentor had juiced the Hollywood Foreign Press to give him.

A second envelope, addressed in Will’s flourishing script was addressed it to me, Christine Marlowe. I pulled from it a note written by Will. No doubt. It read:

Good friend, for Christ’s sake listen,
Without you my career would sure be missin’
Thanks for always being there to save my ass,
And fuck those critics who doubted I had class.

Yeah, he always sucked as a writer. But the boy could act. Oh, how we loved that boy’s act.

This is a quickly penned response to a prompt from writer Julie Duffy. I needed the help. I was supposed to write a story of 750 words or less (FAIL!) featuring a character from history or mythology, but place them in a different era. I pulled this scribble out of my nether regions in about an hour. I know. Reads like our Will Shakespeare’s hideous “real” writing. I may try this again with someone else later.

Always Another Bruise

It never really goes away like rain,
though some folks have equated it with clouds.
Some might call it a never-ending pain,
but that’s like comparing throngs to crowds.

Others equate it to that color there,
the primary between purples and greens.
Though it’s tones can reach from the open air
to the deep indigos of brand new jeans.

It’s that tonal range where I’m mostly found,
though sometimes I break through to the bright.
I’ve swum like hell to keep from being drowned
in these deep darks, then get too tired to fight.

I’ve sunk again. Life’s colored like this bruise
from the fight of always having these blues.

Once Upon a Time There Was a Writer…

Still Life with Lemons on a Plate. Vincent van Gogh, 1887

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to write a new story for my kids collection.”

“What’s it about?”

“I don’t know yet because I haven’t been able to start it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I keep getting distracted.”

“I only just came into the room. You’ve been in here for over an hour.”

“I’m blocked, Jeannie, okay?” 

“What does that even mean?”

“It means I can’t find anything to write about, or can’t get started for some odd reason…like being distracted by my daughter.”

“So this is my fault again. Here, let me help you begin.”

“No, really, I’d prefer it if you’d…”

“Once upon a time, there lived a shoemaker who couldn’t make shoes anymore.”

“Seriously, would you please…”

“So this shoemaker had a daughter, who was the most beautiful and intelligent girl in the kingdom.

“Where’s this going? I’d like to get to my work.”

“One day, the shoemaker’s daughter found her father staring at his work table, where he had all kinds of leather and tools that he had acquired from all over the world.”

“Go on if you must. Just…go on.”

“Don’t sigh so. So the shoemaker’s daughter said, ‘Don’t despair, Father dear. You just need to get away from all your shoe forms and glue pots and laces and come walk with me through the lemon groves.”

“Lemon groves?”

“Don’t stop me now. While they walked, the brilliant daughter filled her apron with the sour lemons. Her father said, ‘What do you propose to do with so many of those?’ And she replied, ‘I’ll crush these, taking their sour essence, add the sweetness of my sugar and make lemon tarts and lemon curd.”

“Lemon curd?”

“Shhh, I’m trying to help here. So the shoemaker and his beautiful and brilliant daughter returned to their house, where she did as she said she would, leaving a dozen untouched lemons left there on her counter. ‘You can have these, father. Perhaps you can think of something else to do with them,’ she said. Just then, a handsome young man was riding past the shoemaker’s house and smelled the lemon tarts the shoemaker’s angelic daughter had left on the window sill to cool.”

“No. You’re not going to say…”

“The handsome young man reined in his horse and walked to the window, drawn by the aroma of the sweetened sour lemons in their flaky pastry glory. At the window, he peered inside and saw the shoemaker’s daughter and was smitten by her beauty, intelligence and extraordinary housekeeping skills.”

“That’s a real stretch.”

“Please, I’m coming to the climax. As I said, the handsome young man was smitten by the shoemaker’s daughter. Let’s call her Jeanne Rose…”

“Convenient.”

“I repeat: Jeanne Rose. And the young man asked if her if he could sample her tarts. The oh-so-sweet Jeanne Rose said he could, but that she had no suitable libation for the young man to drink with his tart. Her father, seeing the young man and daughter setting off sparks between them, and knowing you can’t get rid of a daughter fast enough back in these fairy tale times, said, ‘Handsome young man, if you would be so kind as to fetch me a bucket of water from the well, I shall provide you with libation that you might even take with you on the road if you wish.’ So the young man brought a bucket into the house. The shoemaker crushed the dozen lemons into the water, added  enough sugar to make it ALMOST as sweet as Jeanne Rose, and presented it to the smitten young man.”

“Oh…kayyy…”

“Shhh, let me finish. Suitably puckered from this king’s ransom of citric goodness, the young man revealed—through  his tightly pursed lips—that he was the Prince, scouring the kingdom for the perfect bride to one day share his throne. Then the Prince placed said pucker on the lips of the pluperfect, might-as-well-be-a-princess Jeanne Rose, kissed her with a gentle passion and asked her to be his bride. ‘Yes, oh yes, my prince,’ she said. And they lived happily ever after.”

“Wait a minute. What about that poor bastard shoemaker?”

“Oh, yeah. Ummm, the King seeing his fine handiwork, though already having his own Italian shoemaker, named now-Princess Jeanne Rose’s father Master Saddlemaker of the Royal Tack for all his fine steeds and carriages. Which reminds me, could you give me a ride to the mall? I’m supposed to meet my prince at Starbucks in about fifteen minutes. Daddy? Daddy, did you hear me?”

“You could’ve just asked for the keys, Jeannie. They’re on the kitchen counter next to the lemons. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I may have found a way to turn this pile of chicken shit into Chicken Kiev. Or at least chicken salad.”

“Thank you, Daddy. Have fun. See you later.”

“Um-hmmm. Thank you, Princess. Enjoy your tarts. Hmmm. ‘Once upon a time, there was a…shoemaker…’?”

So I just sat to writing table today, much as the writer/shoemaker in this story. And, since my daughters are far, far away, I just started writing. And here’s what I came up with. Just dialogue. And I thought, “That was fun. Now what?” Back to the groves, I guess.

The Duke of Tryon Court

Dave Clemente would walk around the neighborhood, ostensibly for exercise, but really he was inspecting everyone’s curb appeal, like he was the Duke of Tryon Court and we neighbors his vassals.

If your lawn was a little shaggy, or some dandelions decided to pop their little butter pat knobs above the grass, Dave would be like, “Off with their heads.” And he would pretty much tell you exactly that.

“You know, Ben, you’d better get control of those dandelions before they go to seed. I don’t need any parts of those little puffy tops finding their way to my lawn,” he told me two years in a row. The fact that I lived six doors downwind from his place didn’t matter. I and my lawn were just one of the invasive species that had taken over his verdant domain.

In truth, no one took better care of his lawn than Dave. Or more interest in everyone else’s. I would see him when I would go out to fetch the paper at dawn, positioning his sprinklers for maximum coverage, one inch of water in the ground per day, each day a third of the lawn catching his godlike decree of showers that kept his greensward looking like a billiard table straight from the factory.

I’d wave to him later as I walked out to the car on my way to work, but he didn’t notice very often. You could see him eyeballing the arc of the sprinklers’ spray, nodding approvingly at the way, if the sun’s angle was just right, it would drape a rainbow across his lawn. His head would follow each sweep of the sprinkler, left to right, right to left, mesmerized by the gift of life he was imparting to the organism that his house wore as a mantle.

If grass was supposed to be purple instead of green, Dave’s lawn would be the most royal of purples.

I sometimes would imagine what it would be like to be in his head, gauging everyone else in the neighborhood’s lawns against his own. I would watch him stalk the sidewalks, turning his head a bit sideways to observe if any of our lawn’s had grown irregularly over the past week since mowed on Saturday or Sunday.

“You need to check the level of you blade deck, Ben,” he’d say. “Look how unequal your cuts are. Lopsided and, well, trashy. And you really should stick to one kind of seed instead of those cheap blends. See how the rye grows faster in this weather than the fescue?”

“Um, no.”

“Here,” he’d say and pull me down to knee level and then tilt his head to the side again like he was sighting a sniper rifle. “See how those rye blades are popping up like moles out of their hole in relation to the red fescue? Makes it look shaggy as hell. And speaking of moles…”

“I gotta go, Dave. I think I left the tub running.”

“Okay, and that reminds me. One inch of water over the whole lawn. Gotta water deep to keep those roots well hydrated. Can’t let your lawn turn brown when everyone else is trying for green,” he shouted over my shoulder.

Like I said, Dave practiced what he preached to the nth degree. He treated his lawn as well, if not better, than he treated his kids. Which, if I had his kids, so would I. Wild little buggers, but probably since he wouldn’t let them play on his precious grass.

You’d see little Marisa doing cartwheels on everyone’s front lawns all the way down to the Cramers’ place, where she’d play tag with their kids. All around the outside of their house, including the front lawn. I’d find Dave Jr. running under the spray from my lawn sprinkler on those days I remembered to give it fifteen or twenty minutes of shower time. Kid would leave the lawn a muddy mess. But my son would join him, so I couldn’t bitch too much. I’d join, too, on those hot evenings.
Besides, what’s the sense of having grass around your house if you can’t enjoy it?

And where was their Dad? More often than not, he would be peering down the breadth of his lawn, flat on his stomach on the driveway, ruler in his hand, making sure the height never deviated more than a quarter of an inch from three and three-quarter inches. Then he would move to the middle, lie on his belly again, and do the same thing for all 360 degrees of that island of hoped-for fescue perfection. And he’d see to it with a pair of surgeon’s scissors.

I once wondered where his obsessive-compulsive bent in turf grass science came from. Dave hadn’t attended agricultural school, he was an IT guy. His father was an accountant and his mom stayed at home with the kids. I did notice some old family photos on his hallway walls once at a Christmas party. One showed young Dave and his Mom and Dad and brothers—all wearing the same little outfits with matching bow ties and two-tone shoes—seated on the couch. On the clear plastic-sheathed couch. Next to the clear plastic covered lamps. Feet dangling above the snow white carpet with the clear plastic runners leading back to the camera and across the whole living room.

I once played golf with Dave and instead of shooting the breeze as we walked the course, he would point out how the greenskeeper had done this to fix this part of the course and how he should have used that to keep a certain green from having darker green spots. I asked him how he knew that and he said his Uncle Carmine, who was a greenskeeper at a public course in Jersey, had taught him all this.

I once asked Gracie Clemente if Dave’s Uncle Carmine had ever been to their house.

“I imagine he’d be proud to see the efforts of his nephew.

“Carmine? Dave doesn’t have an Uncle Carmine. Oh, you mean Carmine Verducci. He was just a friend of the family. Sort of a surrogate father for the Clemente boys, since their dad was always working late hours. Dave and his Mom took Carmine’s death really hard,” she said.

After that, I didn’t begrudge Dave his idiosyncrasies as much. I may keep a shitty lawn, but I’m not exactly an unfeeling barbarian.

And I felt kind of sorry the day Dave died. We found him out in his backyard, lying on his stomach, his head up, looking and reaching out toward the back of his house.

“Poor man. he must’ve been looking for help from inside,” my wife said.

“Yeah. Sad.”

I say I felt kind of sorry because I knew Dave Clemente died doing what made him happiest. In fact, there was this calm and…I don’t know…accomplished look on his face when we found him. I didn’t have the heart to tell my wife about that few rogue blades of grass in front of him and how the Duke of Tryon Court already had his scissors in his hand.

This story — since I seem to be incapable of digging up sufficient emotion to write poetry lately — was prompted by Canadian writer and writing instructor Sarah Salecky for her “Six Weeks, Six Sense” writing feature. This week, we were supposed to use the sense of sight as a theme. I’m sure I blew the assignment altogether, but this thing just took off on me. I saw that one of her prompt photos and this story jumped out of my head to the page.

Angel of Mercy

“Winter’s Chill” Brett Reeder Lost River Range, Mackay, Idaho,

The dog barking outside the barn drowned out even the howl of the blue norther. But Angel Favor was not one to be moved by a dog. Not when that wind blew a purple cloud wall from the north over what was a warm November day, smothering it in a deadly freezing hell in but a handful of hours.

But a pair of shotgun barrels poked in his wind-chapped face gave him plenty of reason to move, even if they were being held by this wisp of a girl.

“Whoa, there, Missy. Hope you know what you’re doing with that scatter gun,” Angel said as he held up his hands in exaggerated surrender. The gun looked to be a 12-gauge and the girl’s slender finger was wrapped around both triggers.

“I do. Now what are you doing in our barn? And put the fire out. Now!” the girl said. Angel gauged her to be about 12 too.

“I’m just trying to get out of this dam…I mean this darn blue norther, Missy. Finally get warm. Don’t mean no harm. Didn’t wish to bother the house and me and old Monkey Face over there was about to die if we didn’t some shelter. And quick-like.” Angel pointed to the corner where his shivering roan shared hay with a pair of mules in one of the stalls.

“Hope you don’t mind, I borrowed one of your blankets for my horse. She never could handle the cold. I can’t, either,” Angel said with a grin as he kicked out the small fire he’d built in a hole he dug in the hard-packed dirt floor.

“You haven’t answered my question, Mister,” the girl said as she raised the heavy barrels at Angel’s head again.

“Name’s Favor, Angel Favor, Missy. Or, as my grandma who named me would say, ‘Ahn-hel Fah-vore.’ But folks just call me Angel. I was a couple days out of Panhandle City on my way to the Diamond F looking for work, when this norther blew in like nothing I ever seen. And, well, here we are. So, if you wouldn’t mind…”

“I do mind. You say you came northeast from Panhandle?”

“Yes’m, more or less.”

“You run into anybody on the trail during that time?”

“No, Missy. Not a one.”

“You’re sure,” the girl said, as she eased her grip on the gun and idly let the the 12-gauge barrels droop toward the floor. The expression on her face fell as well.

Angel grabbed the muzzles and pulled the gun from her hands. The girl jumped back and tripped on the oversized boots she wore beneath her blanket robe.

“Honest, little Missy, I don’t mean anyone no harm. I wouldn’t even have stopped here if it weren’t for the cold. And for gosh sakes, now it’s snowing, too. Would it be too much to ask if I could come into your house just to get warm? Here, take the scatter gun back as a sign of good faith,” Angel said.

He offered the girl his hand and helped her to her feet, handing back the shotgun.

“All right, Mister. You can come inside. We’re good Christians in this house and Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger. So that’s what we do”

“Amen to that, little sister,” Angel said, raising his hand to Heaven.

“Glad to hear that you believe those teachings, Mister. But there’s another one I ain’t said yet.”

“What’s that, Missy’?”

“How are you at caring for the sick?”

Once Angel saw to his horse’s comfort, he followed the girl through the freezing wind and cutting snow toward her house, pulling some firewood from the stack by the door. Before he entered, he took a look back at the barn. Or toward the barn, the blizzard having erased it from view, just as it had the footprints he and the girl had made only seconds before.

“This ain’t good,” Angel muttered to himself as he entered the cabin and pushed the door closed.

“All right, Mr. Angel Favor, you can throw one of those logs on the fire and shake out of your coat. There’s coffee in the pot and some stew left in the Dutch oven. Oh, and I’m Martine White. Folks call me Marti,” the girl said.

“I thank you kindly, Miss Marti. I ain’t been this cold since a Norther blow in like this in ’88. And that was a killer. I mean there was cattle foundered and froze in the snow from…”

“Stop! No more,” Marti said. “Now what was it you said about tending to the sick?”

“Well that depends on the kinda sick,” Angel said as he ladled the boiled down dregs of the stew onto a chipped white plate with blue flowers around its rim. “I ain’t know miracle worker or nothing, but I’ve tended some old boys back from snakebite, fevers, even got one boy from Kansas through the bloody flux.”

That’s when Angel heard the weak cough from behind a curtain at the far end of the cabin.

“What do you know about the grippe?” Marti asked. She pulled back the curtain and revealed a woman, Angel guessed to be in her mid-thirties, lying in a brass-framed double bed.

“My mother’s been sick with this fever and cough for days now and is only getting weaker. My Pa didn’t know what more he could do and set out yesterday morning to fetch a doctor from Panhandle City to see if he could help, you know,” Marti’s voice cracked, “save her.”

“You say your mama’s been like this for a few days now?” Angel asked.

“Yep. Fever, aches all over, then this cough. Mister, when you said you didn’t see my father on the road to Panhandle, an’ then this blizzard started, all I could think was I was going to be an orphan in a few days. And that’s only if this storm lifts.” Marti took the wet dish towel off her mother’s forehead and dipped it into a washers on the table next to her bed. She rung out the towel and placed back on her mother’s head.

“She’s burning up, Mister. Can you help at all?”

“Damn, Missy, the grippe, that there Russian influenza, is nothing I want to get too close to. I seen it run through Indian camps, cow camps, whole towns and leave…well, let’s say it wasn’t a good thing.”

“Then there’s nothing we can do. I don’t even know if my father’s made it to Panhandle or is holed up someplace in this storm, or his horse foundered or busted it’s leg, or…”

“Worryin’ like that’s not going to help your Ma or your pa. And most ‘specially you, Miss Marti.” Angel said.

He quickly put on his coat, pulled down his hat and moved toward the door.

“Your gonna leave us? What kind of Christian man would do such a thing?” Marti shouted as he grabbed the doorknob.

Angel turned and said, “I never claimed to be the greatest Christian ever wore shoes, but you stay here.” With that he opened the door to the howling wind and cold and strode out in the direction of the barn. he returned in a couple of minutes, his hat and shoulders covered in snow.

“Missy, would take my hat and shake the snow off it into your Mama’s basin there? We gotta help get her fever down first. Now, please tell me your Mama is a good baker. I need me some cinnamon,” Angel said as he shed his coat and placed it over a chair.

Marti looked up with a start from dropping the snow off the brim of Angel’s Stetson into the basin.

“Baking? Baking? My Mama’s dying here and you want to make a damn cake?”

“No, Missy, I ain’t much of a baker. But I seen this tin of medicines they sell in Dallas what claim to help with the influenza. Says on the tin they’re made of cinnamon and quinine.

“My mother’s spices are in that cabinet by the stove, but where in God’s name are you going to get…”

Angel pulled a small bottle from his pocket and plunked it on the table top.

“I ain’t never traveled without it since they give it to me in Cuba for the malaria. It’s good for fevers and whatever’s in your blood that might be making you sick. The cinnamon, or so my big sister taught me, can help with pains and helps with colds and the grippe. Now I don’t know how much of what is in them pills they had in the apothecary, but I’d say your mother’s not got much to lose if we make us a weak tea of these things and have her take as much as you can give her. Then there’s only one other thing I know that’ll help her now,” Angel said.

“What’s that?” Marti asked.

“Pray, Miss Marti. Pray like you never did before.”

“Here, Mama, try to take some of this tea. Might help you feel better,” Marti said as she spooned some of Angel’s concoction to her mother’s lips. Marti heard the door creak open behind her and felt the wind whoosh snow into the kitchen.

“Mister!” she called, as Angel closed the door behind him.

“Gosh darn that man. Now he leaves me to fend for myself. Don’t worry, Mama, I’m sure Pa’s on his way back with the doctor. We just had a bit of a storm that’s slowing him down,” she said. But Marti was beginning to feel none of them were going to survive this storem, one way or another.

Then the door burst open again and Angel rushed into the cabin looking like a Stetson-wearing snowman.

“You miss me, Miss Marti?” Angel said with something between a grin and a grimace. “I think I got something else that might help your mother until your daddy gets back with the sawbones.” Angel pulled yet another bottle from the pocket of his gum rubber rain slicker.

“What do you have now, Mister Favor?”

“You can call me Angel, Missy, seeing as how we’re going to be neighbors for awhile. This here is some horse liniment I picked up in Panhandle to help ease old Monkey Face’s aches and pains. Mine, too, truth to tell.”

“You’re not putting that stuff on my mother,” Marti blurted. “Like to burn the skin right off her.”

“No, Missy, I want her to breathe it.”

“What?”

“Yep. I’m gonna put a dab of this here liniment in a pot of boiling water and let you mama breathe in the steam. This stuff’s got camphor and menthol in it and I just know I seen something in that same apothecary that folks with colds were supposed to smear on their chests. Supposed to break up their catarrh. Pretty sure it was something like this stuff. Sure as heck smelled something like it,” Angel said as he put a pot on the stove and set it to boiling.

“I’m just going to use a teeny tiny bit, all right? Just to get the vapors up. Might help. Couldn’t hurt more than what your poor mama’s going through right now. If I’m right, it might help her get up some of that stuff and ease her breathing,” he said.

After that, Angel wrapped some snow in an oilcloth tablecloth and his own coat and placed them on either side of the Mrs. White.

“Why don’t you get some sleep, Miss Marti?” Angel said to the girl. “I’ll keep the fire going and an eye on your mama.”

“But, Mama and, and my pa…”

“I’ll be listening for him, too. Was he well mounted when he left? Did he have a blanket and a decent coat?”

“My father has a good horse. Marcus Aurelius, he calls him. He’s a foreman at the Diamond F, so he needs a good horse for that and to keep our own stock under watch. And, yeah, he had a blanket on Marcus and Mama wouldn’t let him leave without his new coat,” Marti said.

“That’s good news, Missy. Now why don’t you get some sleep and I’ll keep an eye on your mama. Get me another pot of coffee going, if you don’t mind.”

“All right,” Marti sighed. “I’ve been up for a whole day and a half now and I don’t think I could stay awake another minute. Thank you, Mister Favor.”

“You can call me Angel, Missy. We been partners in helping your mama and I think partners can call each other by their first names,” Angel said with a grin.

“Thank you again, Mist…I mean Angel,“ Marti murmured as she rolled into the blankets of her bed behind another curtain dividing that end of the cabin. Angel could hear her rhythmic, soft breathing within a minute.

“Well, I guess I’d better make me some coffee,” Angel said. After the water had come to a boil, he let the ground beans sit in the pot for about a minute and then poured himself a cup from the rack that contained other pieces of the blue decorated china upon which he had eaten his stew. When was that? Four, five, six hours ago? He’d lost track of time. That sure is some mighty fine dishes to own when you’re living out here, he thought.

Angel looked over at Mrs. White. He had been fearful of touching Marti’s mother because, after all, she was a married woman. A gentleman does not touch a woman of such refinement in her nighty without benefit of clergy, he thought. Or, in some of the places he’d been, five dollars.

He also wasn’t so sure he wanted to get close enough to Mrs. White should she give him the illness that might take her life that very night. But with Marti sleeping soundly, the poor little mite, Angel knew he’d have to minister to the woman himself. He placed another pot of water on the stove and fetched the basin in which he had placed the liniment and water before.

“Damn, this does have a certain something to it,” he said to himself as his eyes watered and nose ran. He made another cup of his quinine and cinnamon concoction and moved to Mrs. White’s bedside.

He lifted the spoon to her slips and she weakly said, “Martine?”

“She sleeping over in her corner, Missus,” Angel said.

“Doctor?” she wheezed.

“No, ma’am. Just someone who stopped to help.” She took a sip of the tea and gave a weak cough. “That’s it, Missus. Let’s get some of that stuff up.”

“Matthew?” she whispered.

“No, ma’am. Angel, Angel Fav…oh, your husband. No, ma’am. He ain’t back yet. But don’t you worry. Little Martine has been taking extra good care of you. You’ve got yourself a strong little girl over there. She a downright hero.”

Mrs. White gave Angel a weak smile and began to cough again.

“Ma’am? I want to help you along a little with that cough. First have another sip of this tea and then I want you to sit up a little and breathe in some steam from a basin I’m preparin’. Think you can do that for me, ma’am?”

She nodded.

“Good. I’ll be back in two swishes with my other concoction.”

She grasped his hand and, in a weak voice, said, “Thank you, Mister…?”

“Angel, ma’am. Angel Favor. Now you just rest here for only a minute.”

Angel returned with the liniment-infused basin of water and a towel he had soaked. He placed the basin next to the woman and held the towel her head to keep the vapors where she could breathe them.

Mrs. White’s breath rattled in her chest and Angel thought this might be the end.

“Marti, Marti, come over here to your mama,” he yelled. He was fearful her mother was dying and didn’t want either of the White womenfolk to not say goodbye if this was it.

Angel pulled the towel away as Marti ran to her mother’s bedside.

“Mama? Mama? Are you all right?” Marti said.

Mrs, White gave a great sigh, followed a wet cough of loosened phlegm.

“Cover her mouth and let her spit that stuff out, Marti,” Angel said, just as Mrs. White coughed up another bit of the stuff congesting her lungs. She then took a deep inhalation and coughed again.

“Oh, Mama.” Marti cried. “Is this good, Mr. Angel?”

Angel’s mind was spinning. Had he killed this poor woman with his ministrations?

“I ain’t sure, Marti. Not at all. But better out of her than in, I’d imagine,” Angel said unconvincingly.

The dog suddenly barked, the cabin door flew open and a large man with a torn bit of blanket wrapped around his face stood in the doorway. He was covered in snow. Behind him, Angel could see the snow was not falling so heavy as before, but the wind still howled.

“Who’re you?” the man growled, a Colt pistol suddenly appearing in his hand.

“Pa!” Marti shouted and ran to the snow-covered figure, who raised his Peacemaker.

Angel stood back from Mrs. White and said, “Easy there, mister. I’m just a traveler caught in this norther who your daughter asked to help with her ailin’ mama.”

“It’s all right, Pa. Mister Favor has been helping me. I didn’t know what to do when you didn’t get back after the storm hit,” Marti said.

From the bed they hear a voice say, “Matthew, close that door before we freeze to death.”

“Sarah? Sarah!” Matthew White cried, holstered his revolver and rushed past Angel to his wife. “I was so afraid I’d return and you’d be…you’d be…gone. And…what the hell is all this? You smell like a gimpy horse and a tin of muffins. And the bed is getting wet from…is this snow?”

“That’d be some of the things I did to help your Missus,” Angel said.

Matthew White felt his wife’s forehead and noted her fever had broken. Her breathing was stronger and her grip on her husband was stronger than when he left two days before.

“I tried to get to Panhandle, but the norther overtook me and Marcus and I had to take shelter in the abandoned barn at the old Blandings’ place. Never could make it to the doctor,” he said, shaking his head.

“That’s how I found Mr. Favor, Pa. In our barn,” Marti said.

“I saw the roan in with my mules. You had to take my horse’s brand new blanket for that old mare?” White said.

“Under the circumstances, I didn’t get too choosy. I took the one on top,” Angel said.

“Well, whatever you did, it doesn’t matter because you helped my wife and daughter when I couldn’t. I don’t know how, but Sarah seems to have broken through from what I was afraid was the influenza we’ve been hearing so much about. I don’t know how we can thank you,” Matthew White said.

“Well, once all this storm ends up, I imagine you’ll might need some hands over at the Diamond F. I’m even better at taking care of stock than I am people,” Angel said.

“And he’s really good at taking care of people, Pa,” Marti said as she looked up into her father’s eyes.

“He’s a godsend, Matthew,” Sarah whispered from her bed.

“You got a job, Mister… I’m sorry, what’d you say your name was?”

Ahn-hel Fah-vore. But most folks call me Angel.”

This story came out of nowhere and tried going back there three times. But, over the past three days I battled my way though it. I wanted to do a story about one of the great Blue Northers that struck the Texas panhandle in the latter part of the 19th Century, or the one in 1911. My friends from Texas and the southern Plains know what I’m talking about. I didn’t realize when I “built” Angel, how resourceful he was. He surprised all of us. Hope you could suspend your disbelief for a spell and enjoyed the story.