Tag Archives: joy

Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 4

On the 4th day of Christmas: the next installment of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Check out previous paragraphs in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

“It’s like this: no one wants to invest in a product that will be last year’s model. THAT, my friend, is a tough selling environment. But like I always say, tough times—”

“‘Only make you tougher,’” Wendell finishes, hoping to quell the conversation.

Ira steams ahead at full speed. “I follow a hunch; make a call. And do you know what happened?”

Wendell spies Ruth boarding the bus. “You wish you’d gone shopping at the mall.”

“What,” Ira blurts as he pushes his glasses back up his nose. “No, not shopping, I got the account. It was like tapping into Fort Knox! My boss couldn’t believe it. He nicknamed me–”

“The Miracle Man.” Wendell turns his attention back to Ira. “What the hell does any of that have to do with joy?”

“Simple: Since I know what it’s like to live without joy, now that I’ve found it, I’m qualified to be its salesman.”

“Oh Judas,” Wendell fumes. “You’re going to start preaching about religion again, aren’t you?”

Ira waves him off. “No, not religion. Besides, it never did much for me anyway. What I’m talking about is joy and Christmas.”

Wendell wags a finger in front of Ira. “Then you’re still talking religion. Like I’ve told you time and time before, I don’t doubt Jesus existed, but to claim he’s God, born of a virgin? Those can be explained with science and logic.”

“Unless it was a miracle.”

Wendell grinds his teeth and drifts back in time…

He sits beside Ellen’s bed, holding her limp fingers; machines clack and whiz in the background. Tubes are in her nose, arms; face is snowy white.

This isn’t how he planned it. This had to be a mistake. He is Wendell Bennett, top-notch trial attorney for Goddard County. His prestigious degrees, good looks and panache had given him the footing to storm up success like a marine hitting Omaha beach. Over the years he became so iconic in the courts that he is known only by his last name. When defense attorneys learn that Bennett is on the case, the matter is quickly settled out of court. Those that are opportunistic eye him like a gunslinger, but he mows them down. Mercilessly.

He is at the top of his game, ready to enjoy life with Ellen: trips to Europe, long walks on the beach, visiting grandkids, sipping wine in Napa Valley. Ellen isn’t supposed to find a lump. The oncologist isn’t supposed to tell them it’s malignant.

He is Wendell Bennett and cowers to no one, so he attacks Ellen’s disease with the fervor he is noted for as an attorney. Second opinions. Third. Fourth. He reads books and magazines on the topic, attends seminars and workshops, even gets out of his comfort zone and blogs. Only the best centers will do: Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Stanford. He tries holistic health, wellness retreats, even the black market. All promise a cure. All let him down.

He leaves no stone unturned. He tries Eastern yoga, mysticism, Pentecostal pastors, Catholic priests, holy men of Yemen.

Nothing.

The cancer, like a plague of microscopic locusts, continues to gnaw away at Ellen. Weak and haggard, she begs for home, longing for the comfort of her own bed with family and friends nearby. He obliges, but Bennett never loses, so he makes one last ditch effort.

He prays to God for a miracle.

He begs, willing to swap his life for hers, vowing all of his time and money to pious service if only God will answer his prayer. For months he prays, daring to hope, steeling his faith, yearning for God’s healing touch.

Now he sits beside her. Tears well, vision blurs. Ellen lifts a weak hand and touches his cheek, and in a frail voice, gives him God’s answer: “Let me go.”


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 3

On the third day of Christmas: the next installment of the short story, The Miracle Man.

(Read previous portions in “Love, Joy & Miracles” in “Past Posts.”)

He eyes the carafes, pondering whether to have Constant Comment or coffee, when a familiar voice shouts: “Christmas!”

Ira Rubin, Wendell deduces without taking his eyes off the table. Salesman from Akron; south wing; wife died years ago; son never visits; the man is obnoxious as the day is long.

He drops his tea bag into the mug of steaming water and faces Ira. Racing toward him in a motorized wheelchair, green oxygen tank clanking like an alarm bell on a destroyer, is a bespectacled man with close-set eyes. Strands of hair sway like Kansas wheat, and his over-the-ear oxygen tubes accentuate his wrinkled face.

“Christmas,” Ira fires at close range.

Same old Ira! Manipulates you into a conversation you never want to have. Lately, the topic is religion. But since it’s almost Christmas, I guess I can humor him…

“What about it,” Wendell asks as he stirs his tea.

“Does it bring you joy?”

“No. But I hear the cafeteria’s serving fried joy, sautéed joy, joy ala mode…”

“Very funny.” Ira sizes up Wendell. “Seriously, what’s your answer?”

 Wendell sips his tea. “It’s the same as it was yesterday and the day before that: no.”

“I figured as much, which reminds me, did I ever tell you about the Christmas I made the sale of a lifetime?”

“As a matter of fact–”

“Coldest December Akron’s ever seen. Sales were down, China was manufacturing for less, and Christmas was a few weeks away. In my business, Christmas was the valley of death for sales.”

“Just like the cave in that Tarzan movie.”

“Huh?”

“Remember that old Johnny Weissmuller film? The one where he follows those elephants behind a waterfall?”

Ira shoots a finger into the air. “Yeah, I remember that one! They go there to die and poachers try to steal their tusks. Well, it’s just like that only worse.”

Wendell swirls his tea. “Naturally.”


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 2

On the second day of Christmas: The continuation of the short story, The Miracle Man.

Wendell reaches The Commons of Villa Velencia and stops to get his bearings. In the center of the large room is a big-screen TV. The faithful huddle on sofas and loveseats to watch the morning game show. Scattered about the TV are sitting areas where other members gather. Some play cards. Some read. Some converse.

For the most part, he acknowledges, Villa Velencia lives up to its claims: elegance and amenities for those who can afford it. But there are some things not even money can disguise… He braces himself before checking on the cluster sitting in a shadowed corner. “…or change.”

They are phantoms of themselves; minds melting like wax near a flame. One entertains invisible guests; a petite woman hurls vulgarities; one man rocks back and forth incessantly. The others stare into space with eyes frosted over like panes of glass against a deep frost.

“Retirement villa,” he muses. Look at us! We’re like elephants in that Tarzan movie marching to a waterfall to die.

 “Good morning, Wendell!”

 He turns his attention to the feminine voice.

Ruth Tucker: South wing; husband passed some time ago; nice woman; attractive smile…

Her eyes twinkle with child-like exuberance, and for a split second, Wendell gets a glimpse of her when she was twenty. His emotions flair; he looks away to regain his composure.

“Are you going to join us?” She pulls her shawl close. “The shuttle is leaving soon for the mall.”

 He notes the white microbus warming up outside the glass doors. Snow dusts the tinted windows.

 “Why in blazes would I want to go to the mall?”

 “Because it’s almost Christmas!”

“Oh yeah, ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ We buy things we don’t need for those we don’t like, and churches visit us to ease their conscience. Or is it to appease an angry God? Never mind, the fact is we’re alone 11 months like Tarzan’s elephants and…”

He catches himself, and despite his tirade, Ruth is all smiles. “I’m sorry. I must sound like Scrooge.”

She pulls her hand out from beneath her shawl and pats his forearm. “No need to apologize: I’m used to your moods. Should you change your mind, we’d love to have you tag along. Might do you good.”

She turns to join the others gathering near the doors. They spot him and wave him over. He ignores them and heads for the table holding hot beverages.


Love, Joy & Miracles…Day 1

Over the next 12 days, I’m going to post paragraphs of my short story, The Miracle Man. The setting is a retirement home at Christmas and the characters deal with love, joy and the possibility of miracles.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

The Miracle Man

Wendell Bennett shuffles down the north wing of Villa Velencia clutching the aluminum handrail—his lifeline to The Commons—with knuckles throbbing with arthritis.

Slippers slide over the tiles, the whoosh-whoosh sound echoing with the Christmas music piped through the building. His gray eyes are like dried water holes on a once great plain.

The image of his son handing him the brochure for Villa Velencia, five years ago, is still vivid. The pamphlet is eye-catching, professionally done; no expense spared. Even the slogan, done with a calligraphy font, is inviting: “A progressive retirement villa.”

A villa, he reflects. More like a compound. Damn place always smells like chicken noodle soup!

He studies the painting on the opposite wall: an impressionistic piece in the style of Renoir. He shakes his head at the cheap imitation as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” rains down from of the overhead speaker.

The melody carries him back home. It’s A Wonderful Life is on TV. Christmas lights glow on the tree; the pine scent foretells of joy yet to come.

His son—too excited for Santa’s arrival—is playing upstairs. Ellen is in the kitchen sautéing onions. He sneaks up behind her and wraps his arms around her. She melts into his embrace.

Wendell shakes off the daydream. Warmth courses his veins as if he downed a jig of whisky. Gray eyes mist and he leans on the railing with all of his weight, desperate to capture the memories like fireflies and store them in a jar to admire at his choosing. But the song fades, the spell is broken, and they flutter away.

He strains forward and continues down the hall.


Dave Matthews Band and A Boy With His Dream

Anonymous Kitchen

As a house painter, I spend a lot of time in other people’s homes.  Although I’m not a sociologist, my years of painting have shown me that the timeless adage is true: the kitchen is the heart of the family.  And in my humble opinion, the epicenter is the refrigerator.  With just a glance, I can learn a lot about a family.  Pictures tell me who they love, what they value, and where they vacation.  Magnets indicate which sports team they cheer, what mechanic they deem trustworthy, or who is their orthodontist.  Report cards, funny drawings, quirky cartoons…all but a facet of a family’s DNA.

Today’s blog is about a typical day on the job that quickly became extraordinary.  I’ve changed the names of the family for anonymity purposes, and the quotes are from memory, but the heart of the story (as well as the organization and band) is spot on.  I hope you’ll be as touched as I was…

I stare at the photo.   I’ve been in their home now for two days and have seen the picture regularly.  You can’t miss it: positioned prominently on the refrigerator and printed on a sheet of computer paper.  But despite the colors being a bit grainy, the celebrity in the photo is very recognizable.

“Is that Dave Matthews?” I ask Susan, the homemaker.

“Yes.”  She beams with motherly pride.

My eyes sweep across the picture.  To the left of Dave is the guitarist and off to the right their drummer.  And although Dave is the focal point of the photograph, my eyes zero in on the drummer and more specifically, his beaming smile.  It’s then that I notice his arm draped over a teenage boy’s shoulder.  He too is smiling, but it appears masked.  Eyes are shadowed and his countenance is gray, perhaps even pale.  Maybe it’s a result of the computer’s printer.  But something deep inside tells me otherwise.

“The Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted us,” Susan offers as if reading my mind, “and asked Shaun what he wished for.  He told them that he wanted to go to a Dave Matthews concert.  So they flew him to Madison Square Gardens to see the show.”

Silence.  Reverence.  Questions loom, but all are none of my business.

“What an awesome experience!” I reply, and although I’m sincere, my words are shallow in comparison to the moment.  In an effort to offer her a worthier reply, I add: “Meeting the band after the NY show must have been a dream come true.”

“Actually, he didn’t,” Susan corrects, relishing the opportunity to share the story about her son.  “That photo was taken upstairs.”

My eyes jump back to the images.  Sure enough, I recognize the bonus room pictures in the background.  Aghast, and obviously not making the connection, I flash her a bamboozled expression.

“After the NY show, Dave learned we were there and informed Make-A-Wish that had he known, he would have met with us.  So when the band was scheduled to perform nearby, Make-A-Wish asked us if Shaun would like to come to the show and meet the band.” She savors the memory, letting its sweetness join her smile before fanning across her face. “Naturally, we said, ‘Yes!’”

She pauses and her expression shifts delicately, like daylight fading at dusk.  “But when it came time for the concert, he was too sick to go.”

I find myself studying Shaun.  Now I understand his muted smile, noting how the chemo robbed him of his color, and that his fight with cancer landed the dark circles around his eyes.

My heart aches.

Susan continues.  “And then his manager called asking if it would be okay if they came by after the show.”  Her smile is back, the memory delightful once more.  “Sure enough, around midnight, two tour buses pulled up to our front door.  They stayed for about an hour.”

“You’re kidding?” I reply, amazed that a rock star would not only make a house call, but would take time to “hang.”

Susan nods, the memory anchoring her to her son.  “In fact, Make-A-Wish said in all their years of doing this, they’ve never known a celebrity to actually go to someone’s home.”

No doubt, I muse.

Her expression shifts; shadowy fingers trace dark lines across her face.  “Several days later, Dave called personally to see how Shaun was doing.”  Her eyes mist.  “I told him Shaun had died that morning.”

I feel myself sinking, lost in emotions too deep to traverse.  There is nothing left to say.  We take in the picture in silence, and then Susan turns to go about her day.  But I cannot let go of the photograph.  I marvel how it captures Shaun’s dream of just hanging out with his favorite band, being what he is suppose to be…a kid full of hope.

Shaun’s eyes tug at me.  Blasting through the darkness of his disease, fighting to be free forever, are prisms of light.  And shining within, I see what his family must see, and why the photo is displayed so prominently on their refrigerator.

Elation. Peace. Life.


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