Tag Archives: love

Remember Chapter Twelve

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy.
Inside she stopped at the bottom of the stairs and considered the effort she would have to exert to return to her room. She thought she heard her bed calling her to come rest awhile, and she obeyed.

Lucinda had just nestled her head in her pillow and endured the squeak of the mattress springs when a knock at the door jerked her back awake.

“Miz Cambridge? It’s Miz Godwin. May I come in?”

“Of course, Mrs. Godwin.” Lucinda lifted herself from the bed and stood, forcing a pleasant look upon her face as Bertha came in.

“They said you was feelin’ poorly. I wanted to check on you.”

“How kind. I’m much better.”

“Good, because I need some advice.” Bertha stepped forward with the urgency of a life insurance salesman at the front door.

Lucinda’s body twitched. “How may I help you?”

“I suppose you’ve heard the fuss about the fire marshal.”

“Yes, some improvements have to be made.” Without thinking, she slumped into her rocking chair.

“Well, Emma is hell bent – excuse my language – on not doin’ a thing. She’s the most stubborn woman in the world.” She smiled as though she had been caught not being a proper Southern lady. “I should know, bein’ her sister.”

“And you want to know if I think you should inform the authorities of her noncompliance?”

Bertha paused, as though her mind had to translate into her Texas vernacular what Lucinda had just said. Eventually, she nodded. “I’d never hear the end of it if she knew I was the one who turned her in. But I don’t want to wake up some night with flames all around me. The way she smokes, I know it’s goin’ to happen.”

“I learned long ago not to make other people’s decisions for them.” Even now she shuddered at the advice she had given Vernon. “You have to look within yourself for wisdom.”

“You’re afraid you’ll lose the roof over your head too?” Bertha asked in sympathy.

“No, that’s not—“

Emma’s voice rang throughout the drafty old house. “Bertha! Come wash these dishes!”

“I’ve got to go.” She headed for the door. “You’re right. It’s my decision.” She looked back and added with what seemed to be sincere concern, “Now you git your rest.”

Before she knew it, Lucinda was back at her desk at the college, and Vernon, dressed in blue jeans and a pull over sweater, entered carrying a notepad and a textbook.

“Vernon. I’m sorry I displeased you earlier.” At that time in her life, Lucinda was not very good at apologies. “I hope any little arguments we have don’t disrupt our friendship.”

“What argument?” he asked as he sat.

“In the hall. You were in your gym shorts and we were talking about—“

“Oh, that was months ago,” he cut her off with a wave of a hand. “I’ve already forgotten about that.”

“Good.” She sighed in relief and focused on his notepad. “What do you have here?”

“It’s that paper you wanted me to do on Dante’s Inferno. And that poem I had to write about death.” He opened the notepad to the page where he had scribbled a few words. He shook his head. “Gosh, Mrs. Cambridge, this is hard.”

‘Well, do you see why I wanted you to write it?” Lucinda relaxed, comfortable in her old element of the classroom.

“Sure, if you go to – um, Hades, that means you must be dead and if we write a poem then we kinda know what Dante must have gone through to write his poem,” he explained with uncertainty.

“That’s right. So, read me your poem.” She leaned forward with anticipation.

Vernon blinked a few times and then began to read, forming each word with care, “One night on a dark country road/ I sped on my way home./ With thoughts lingering about my date/ I didn’t think of what was ahead./ Suddenly before my car/ Was a rabbit frozen with fear/ Fixed in the middle of the road./ The headlight glare caught the shock and fear in his eyes./ Then he died./ And I cried.”

“Very touching, Vernon.” She stood to walk around to his desk and read it again from over his shoulder. “I assume that really happened.”

“Yep.”

“I’ve no quarrel with the free verse with the rhymed couplet. But it is very brief. Perhaps in here – “she leaned over to point at one section “–right before the rhymed couplet you could relate some other experience facing death.”

“I haven’t had any.”

She looked at him. “Surely one of your grandparentshas died.”

“No.” He shook his head, averting eye contact. “All of them are still alive.”

“Oh, there’s someone you’ve known who died.” She became aware of his aftershave, which she recognized as a common brand like her husband had used. “You just don’t remember. And there’s been some experience in your life when you’ve been faced with your own mortality.”

His shoulders shuddered a bit. “But I don’t want to think about it. It scares me.”

“Well, Vernon, dying scares all of us.” She was practically whispering in his ear. “Part of living is overcoming the fear of death.”

“Sometimes, late at night, I think about what it’s going to be like not to exist anymore. Not to feel, be hungry, be happy, look forward to doing things.” His voice took on a mournful, frightened quality.

“Only atheists believe death means not existing anymore.” She pulled away when she was aware she had entered a realm of preaching instead of teaching. She always prided herself on keeping the two issues separated.

“I know that.” He exhaled. “But if I’m not here I’m not existing. Being in heaven is something I don’t know anything about. That won’t be existing like this is existing.” He turned to look at her face. They were very close. “I’m not saying this very well.”

She smiled. “I think you’re saying it beautifully.”

Remember Chapter Eleven

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Memories of Vernon interrupt an unpleasant lunch.
Lucinda walked around the house to the trellis going up to her bedroom window. Honeysuckle blossoms covered the vine. Leaning in, she smelled the scent, felt her heart begin to beat more slowly and closed her eyes. She cocked her head when she thought she heard a basketball being dribbled on a hall floor, the sound ricocheting off the walls. When she opened her eyes she was back at the junior college and saw Vernon jerking toward her, wearing gym shorts and sneakers, trying to bounce the ball.

“Vernon, what are you doing?”

“Why, I’m dribbling the basketball down the hall.” He stopped in front of her and wiped the sweat from his face. “The new coach, Coach Cummins, says to dribble the thing up and down the hall the whole gym period until I get so I don’t kick it when I run.”

“If you’re in Mr. Cummins’ class that must mean this is the fall of your sophomore year.” Lucinda considered how quickly time passed when it became a memory.

“That’s right. I did a whole lot better the spring semester. You even gave me a B.”

She smiled. “I didn’t give you a B. You earned it. I’m very proud of your progress, Vernon.”

The front screen door flung open. The noise drew Lucinda back to the present. Nancy marched out with Shirley in tow.

“You’ll have to behave in the beauty shop this afternoon. I’m not leaving you here around that old busybody who’ll fill your head with nonsense.”

“Omigosh, that’s Nancy!” Vernon announced excitedly, his voice sounding like it was an echo from a well.

“Yes,” Lucinda replied without emotion.

“She still lives here?”

“Yes.”

Shirley broke away from her mother and run over to give Lucinda a quick hug. “I gotta go to Mama’s beauty shop this afternoon.” She looked up into the old woman’s face. “Now you take a nap this afternoon, okay? You don’t look good.”

“Shirley! You come back here right now!” Nancy screamed as she walked down the sidewalk. “If you’re not by my side when I reach the street you’re gonna be in trouble!”

“Yes, Mama.” She gave Lucinda another quick hug. “See you tonight, Mrs. Cambridge.” She ran to catch up to her mother.

“Who’s the little girl?” Vernon asked. His voice was still faint.

“Her daughter.”

“So Nancy got married?” The question rang stronger.

“Um, Vernon don’t worry about Coach Cummins. Just do the best you can.” Lucinda watched Shirley and Nancy walk around the corner and disappear. When she turned back to Vernon they were in the college hallway once more.

“You bet I’m not going to worry about it.” He was solid and sweaty. “I may not be able to bounce this stupid ball, but I can beat up anybody in that class, including the coach. Look at that muscle.” He flexed his bicep.

“Now, now, Vernon, you’re always talking beating up people, but I’d say you’ve never even been in a fight, have you?” She allowed her eyes to linger on his arms.

“Well, no.” He ducked his head. “I’ve never got that mad at anybody yet. But if I ever do get that mad, they better watch out.”

“I hope you’re never that angry. In fact, I’m sure you’ll never be.”

“I guess you’re right.” He tried to dribble again but with no better results.

Lucinda looked around to see if any students or teachers walking past them noticed their conversation. “How did you spend your summer?”

“I had a great time.” Vernon’s face brightened. “Nancy and me, we went—“

“And I,” she corrected him. “Don’t forget your grammar while you’re remembering your summer.”

“Oh yeah.” He paused to clear his throat and concentrate on what he was saying. “Nancy and I went swimming a lot and saw some movies. Gosh it was wonderful.”

“Did she go home for the summer to Pilot Point?” she asked.

“Sure, but I drove over to see her.”

“You drove all that way just for a date?” She could not resist letting a touch of censure color her voice. “Surely your parents didn’t approve of that.”

“I bought the gas with my summer job money,” he replied defensively. “Besides, it ain’t — isn’t any of their business.”

“If you spend your money foolishly you won’t be able to go to the university next year.” She was relentless in her chastisement.

“I’ll have enough.” Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Vernon’s attention drifted.

“And I hate to see a fine young, honorable man like yourself deceive his parents over a girl like Nancy Meyers.” Looking back upon the incident Lucinda realized how petty and self-serving her manner was.

“I’m not deceiving no — anybody. I tell them I got a date and they don’t ask who or where. And they don’t say anything when I get in late.” He cocked his head in curiosity. “And what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?”

“Your mother and father haven’t inquired about your dates?” She continued with questions she clearly knew were none of her business to ask.

“Mama’s just happy I got a date and you know my father. He doesn’t care.” Vernon frowned. “And what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?”

“Oh, I’m sure your father cares.” Lucinda found safety in her attempt to defend his father. After all, honoring your father was one of the Ten Commandments.

“No, he doesn’t — and what did you mean by a girl like Nancy Meyers?” His tone was now markedly testy.

“I didn’t mean anything by it.” She feigned surprise that her remarks were taken the wrong way. “I’d think, however, that a young woman would consider the expense she’s placing on a young gentleman to have him call on her from such a distance.”

He lowered his gaze to study the basketball in his hands. “You don’t like Nancy, do you?”

“Let’s just say I like you better.”

“You’ve never liked Nancy.” It was as if a gate had been opened, and Vernon’s emotion came out. “I could tell, even that first time when I told you about the dance.”

This memory was getting entirely too uncomfortable. Lucinda looked up and around. “There was the bell. I’ve got a class. And you have to shower and do whatever else young men do after perspiring.”

“I didn’t hear a bell,” he replied sullenly.

“If I want to remember a bell, I’ll remember one. This is my memory, after all.” She turned to go up the porch steps, leaving Vernon in past.

Remember Chapter Ten

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to dance.
Lucinda gathered her wits and walked downstairs to the large kitchen where Emma served Spartan meals to her family and boarders. She had her hand on the doorknob when she heard Cassie and Emma talking loudly. Lucinda never knew if one of them were hard of hearing. Perhaps the late Mr. Lawrence was deaf, and they never broke themselves of the habit of talking at the top of their voices. Then again they might just be uneducated Texans who didn’t know any better than to holler.

“I think she’s sweet,” Cassie announced with a giggle in her voice.

“And I say there’s nothin’ worse than someone with an education and no common sense,” her mother retorted.

Lucinda decided she did not want to hear any further discussion of her character so she opened the door and entered. “Good morning, ladies. I’m sorry I’ve detained luncheon.”

“Cassie almost collapsed,” Emma pronounced as an accusation.

“Oh, mama.” Cassie rolled her eyes.

“You know how strange she can act; well, it’s even worse when she don’t git to eat on time.”

Lucinda noticed Shirley was on the verge of laughing when Nancy scowled at her. Bertha was trying her best to smile as though what was going on was normal. Lucinda sat next to Shirley, which, she noticed, did not improve Nancy’s disposition one bit. “It’s just that I’ve developed a terrible stomachache.”

“If you got the belly flu I want you out of my kitchen right now. I don’t want Cassie catching anything from you, and you’ll have to figure out how to get a lunch on your own.”

“I understand,” she replied. “If only I could burp I think I would feel better.”

“Watch your language!” Emma’s eyes flashed indignation. “We never use common words like that around here!”

“Yeah.” Cassie slurped her chicken and stars soup. “Daddy always said belch.”

“Cassie, shut up, and you’re not supposed to started eatin’ until we’ve prayed over it.” She tossed a disapproving glare Lucinda’s way. “Well, you’ve been warned about lunch.”

“Yes, Mrs. Lawrence.” She knew when to be subservient. After all, she had been a teacher for more than forty years.

Emma bowed her head but did not close her eyes until she was sure everyone had followed her example. “Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you so much for Buster Lawrence who—unlike other husbands we know—provided us with a home and money to pay for vittles. And forgive them’s who too stupid to be grateful for what they got. Amen.”

“Oh goody, chicken soup with stars!” Cassie started slurping again.

Bertha sat staring at her sister, tears welling in her eyes. “Emma, I don’t know why you have to be so mean in your prayers. I know you’re talkin’ about my husband. Merrill couldn’t help it if he had kidney stones. His three operations took up all the money we’d saved.”

“Yes.” Emma arched an eyebrow. “Sellin’ cigarettes at that department store. And you two made such a big thing out of bein’ church members.” Smugly she put a spoonful of soup to her pursed lips.

“He couldn’t help sellin’ cigarettes. They said work at the tobacco counter or quit.” Her hands trembled so badly she couldn’t dip the spoon into the soup bowl without clanking loudly.

“I’m jest thankful Buster Lawrence made his livin’ sellin somethin’ good and nutritious like Moon Pies.”

“Moon Pies rot your teeth!” Bertha screeched.

“They do not!” Emma retorted. “Moon Pies is good health food.”

Bertha stood in righteous indignation and shook a finger at her sister. “I don’t see why you’re so proud of Moon Pies being healthful when you ruin your health with those cigarettes.” She turned from the table and headed for the door. “I ain’t hungry no more.”

After the door slammed shut, Cassie looked at her mother, her eyes twinkling. “Can I have Aunt Bertha’s chicken and stars?”

“Of course, you can.” Emma took another spoonful of soup. “Your daddy paid for it so why shouldn’t you have it?”

Lucinda felt a tightening in her chest. She forced a smile on face. “Isn’t it a lovely day? North Texas is always so nice in the spring.” She tried to eat the soup but couldn’t eat more than a couple of swallows down. “Perhaps after luncheon I shall take a walk outside. Perhaps fresh air will make me feel better. I love the smell of honeysuckle.”

Shirley tapped her arm. “Mrs. Cambridge?”

Lucinda turned and smiled. “Yes, Shirley.”

“You said you didn’t feel good. When I feel bad I suck on a throat lozenge. The cherry ones are good.”

“That won’t necessary,” She replied gently. “I don’t think I can put anything in my mouth with this upset stomach.”

“Sometimes eating a Tums will make my upset stomach go away.” Shirley little voice got even softer. “They have all sorts of good flavors.”

“Thank you. It’s very kind of you.”

Shirley looked at Emma at the end of the table then leaned into Lucinda to whisper, “I think what Mrs. Lawrence said was very mean.”

“You shouldn’t judge your elders, Shirley,” Lucinda replied. “It’s not very nice.”

“I know.”

“What are you two whisperin’ about down there?” Emma demanded. “Don’t you know that’s rude?”

“She knows,” Nancy snapped. She elbowed her daughter. “Now shut up and finish your soup.” After a moment, she looked at Emma and snarled, “And you leave my kid alone. She ain’t as rude as some of the people in this house!”

“She wasn’t even supposed to be here for lunch,” Emma muttered.

“School let out early for Good Friday.” Nancy finished her soup and pushed the bowl away.

“You shoulda told me ahead of time.” Emma matched her, glare for glare.

“I didn’t know ahead of time. Listen, old woman, you better start treating us better or I’ll call the fire marshal and tell him you haven’t made the changes he ordered.”

Emma stood and took her soup bowl to the sink. “Lunch is over, so get the hell out of my kitchen.”

Nancy lifted Shirley by the arm pit out of her chair. “When are you going to stop making trouble around here?”

“Mommy, you’re hurting me.”

Nancy pushed Shirley out of the door. Lucinda picked up her soup bowl, deposited it in the sink amd went to the door to the back yard.

“Lovely luncheon.”

Remember Chapter Nine

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to dance.
“I’m sorry. Dallas is more than neat.” He paused to reflect. “I think exciting is the word I’m looking for.”

“Yes, I’d say Dallas is definitely exciting for a young man out of college.” She sat. “Go ahead.”

“I don’t think I’ll join a Baptist church. You know, I might hunt around for something that isn’t so — Baptist. You know what I mean?”

“Turning your back on your religious heritage is not something to be taken lightly.” Lucinda thought of Nancy and how she would be taking her place at the dance. “Have you talked this over with Nancy? What church does she attend?”

“Heck, I don’t know. And I wouldn’t talk to her about anything like this. She might think I’m — well, some sort of church weirdo. You know?” Vernon looked directly into her eyes with complete sincerity. “I mean, I only talk about personal things like this with you.”

“Why, thank you, Vernon. I hope I always merit your confidence.”

“Miz Cambridge, lunch is ready!” Cassie’s voice boomed from the hallway.

He looked at the door. “That sounds like Cassie Lawrence. That’s right. You said you were living in her mother’s boarding house.” He wrinkled his brow. “I told you Nancy used to live here, didn’t I?”

“Yes, Vernon.” She pursed her lips.

“I drove her home yesterday and asked her to the dance right on the front porch.” He sighed. “I guess Nancy still isn’t here, is she?”

“Hardly anyone is here anymore except Cassie’s aunt and me.”

“I hate to see you living in this firetrap. I hated to see Nancy living in this firetrap.”

“That was ten years ago.” Her eyes twinkled with less-than-funny irony. “It really is a firetrap now.”

“Then why do you live here?” Vernon could not hide the irritation in his voice.

“I can’t afford anything else on my pension. Last December I collapsed in the classroom and was forced to retire. I moved in with my sister, but she died of a heart attack in February. So I moved back in here about four months ago.”

“The one you stayed with during the summer? The one in Galveston?”

“Yes.”

“So she died of a heart attack.” His eyes lit with alarm. “Do heart attacks run in your family?”

“They gallop.” She stood in an effort to end the conversation which had grown too personal for comfort. “I suppose you must go now. Mrs. Lawrence will give me the most withering stare and announce the vittles are cold because the teacher woman tarried too long with her books.”

Vernon stood and headed to the door. “You’re taking good care of yourself, aren’t you?”

“As well as I can on my pension.”

“Well, do what the doctor says.”

“I do.”

The background slowly melted from classroom to bedroom, and Vernon’s voice began fading. “I know this sounds silly. But I want you to live a long time because us memories—“

“We memories.” She was hardly conscious she was verbally editing his speech.

“. . . we memories only live as long as the person who has the memory lives. And I like living in your memory.”

“Why, Vernon, don’t worry. Your memory will live.”

“It will?” he asked with hope.

“Even after I die because of all the other people who have these same memories of this sweet, dear young man. I know your mother has them.”

“Is mama still alive?” he persisted with another question.

“Yes, and I’m sure she visits with her memories of you every day.”

“I wonder what kind of memories Nancy has of me?”

Lucinda turned abruptly. “I wouldn’t know.”

“I guess I better go and let you eat lunch.” He was almost out the door and into the mists of yesterday when he stopped for one last question. “You wouldn’t happen to remember if I had a good time at the dance?”

“If I did I don’t think it would be ethical to tell you.” She knew her reply was evasive, but her emotions would not allow truth.

“Miz Cambridge!” Cassie called out again.

“I’ll see you later.” Vernon’s farewell was hardly audible and when he was finished, Lucinda found herself firmly affixed with her sad present tense.

Remember Chapter Eight

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to dance.
“Let’s try again,” Lucinda said to Vernon. “One, two — two, three. One — forward right — two, three — side right. One, two — back with your left — three . . . .”

Lucinda could not believe she was actually teaching someone to dance. A million years ago in another lifetime when she was a gangling teen-aged girl with undeniably bulbous eyes she announced to her mother that she was going to ask her father when he came home from his job that night to teach her to dance. The school was holding the homecoming ball in the gymnasium on Friday night, and she had decided this was the year she was going to attend and be held in a boy’s arms. Her mother’s mouth flew open, and then she informed her daughter she would do no such thing. Her father worked too hard all day to have to put up with some silly little girl with impure intentions involving reckless young men. So Lucinda’s mother took it upon herself to teach the girl how to dance a proper waltz. It was a short lesson, but Lucinda felt confident she had learned the basics. After all, Lucinda was a bright student. In the end, however, it was all for naught because Lucinda spent the entire homecoming dance standing under the basketball netting with a handful of other girls deemed too irretrievably plain to ask to participate. A couple of the girls decided to dance with each other, but Lucinda sensed that was somehow intrinsically wrong.

“Very good, Vernon. Now let’s repeat those steps a few more times, and I think you will have it.”

She allowed herself to close her eyes and pretend she was back in the school gymnasium at the homecoming dance, the band was playing, and Vernon Singleberry had rescued her from a long evening of embarrassment. The bedroom door creaked, and when Lucinda’s eyes opened, she found herself back in the boardinghouse and staring at her landlady Emma Lawrence who had a cigarette hanging from her lips.

“Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Vernon said just as he disappeared into Lucinda’s past.

“Dancin’ by yourself?” Emma took her cigarette from her mouth and flicked ashes on the rough wooden floor. Her faded print dress hung oddly on her undistinguished frame.

“Just — just remembering some — some happy times,” she replied and then laughed which she thought sounded hollow and frightened.

“Hmph.” Emma arched her unattractive bushy eyebrows. “You seen Cassie?”

“She brought me some boxes a few minutes ago.”

Emma blew smoke in Lucinda’s direction. “There’ll be a charge for them boxes, you know.”

“Of course.”

“Fruit boxes like that don’t come easy, you know.” She waved at the corner where the boxed books sat.

“Of course.”

An obvious sneer dominated her wrinkled face. “You can finish your dance.”

“Yes.”

“I always knew you had no common sense.” Emma turned and left the room, shutting the door with more force than was necessary.

Lucinda closed her eyes, lecturing herself that it would be foolish to cry because of what an unpleasant person like Emma Lawrence said.

“I’m getting better.”

Thank God, she thought. Vernon was back. She opened her eyes, and there she was back in her classroom and in her student’s arms. She winced as his large left foot landed on hers. “Not quite. You stepped on my foot again.”

“I told you I was uncoordinated.”

“You’re getting better though.” She smiled. “At least you can say it correctly.”

“Oh, Nancy will never go out with me again.” Vernon turned away in despair.

“If you’re lucky,” she muttered.

“Huh?”

“Oh, nothing.” Lucinda sat at her desk, unconsciously rubbing her chest.

“Maybe I’d do better with the modern dances where you don’t have to be so close.”

“Then you’ll have to find someone else to teach you. I don’t know them.” Her jaw dropped slightly, indicating her disapproval. “Frankly, I don’t think they’re very moral.”

“Mama says the same thing.” Vernon sat at a student desk. “Of course, mama thinks slow dancing is sinful too.”

“Oh no. Waltzes are too graceful to be sinful.” A brief image of a Viennese ballroom crossed her mind.

“You know, what always confused me about that is the dance where you’re far apart is supposed to be bad while when you’re actually touching each other, well, that’s supposed to be okay.”

“So you agree with your mother, that all dancing is wrong?”

“Heck no.” Vernon flashed a big country smile. “I think all dancing is great — if you can do it. For a long time I said I didn’t dance because I thought it was wrong, but it was really because I was so clumsy. But I can’t really see being dishonest about it anymore. Don’t you think being dishonest about how you feel is a worse sin than dancing?

Lucinda stood to go to the window. Fresh green leaves covered the trees. Soon the Texas heat would wither them almost unto death, but not quite. Alive but without life. “You amaze me with your theology, Vernon.”

“But you didn’t answer my question.”

She turned to smile. “I didn’t know you wanted an answer.”

“Don’t you think people should be honest about their feelings?” He did not know the searing truth in his question.

“Sometimes it’s best to keep your feelings to yourself.”

Anyway, I don’t want mama to know, but I think when I get out on my own — you know, after the university and I get a job in computers—“

“Computers? You’ve decided on computers?” She was relieved to talk about other matters.

“Yeah, didn’t I tell you?”

She walked back to her desk, returning to her professorial attitude. “No, you hadn’t. But you were telling me what you were going to do after you got your degree.”

“Yeah, well, once I got a job and a place of my own to live in Dallas or someplace neat like that—“

“Please watch your slang, Vernon,” she interrupted. “Dallas is not neat, per se.”

The Dream

I have a lot of dreams.
This is mostly because I have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder. Put simply, I stay in the dream stage and never go into the deepest level of recuperative sleep. Sorry to bore you with my medical history, but it’s plot exposition, and I thought it best to get it out of the way up front.
One recent night I had this vision of a young boy in a tee shirt and blue jeans. He had a long angular face—soulful, sad. He seemed to be sitting on an L-shaped shadow. Then he spoke.
“Mom is worried about you.”
The pronouncement was so shocking I bolted awake and immediately tried to figure it out. My first thought was it was my interpretation of my son’s concern for my health. Before he leaves for work he reminds me where his work number is written down and tells me to be sure to call if I start to feel ill.
But how would he know if his mom was worried about me too? She died three years ago. And why would I see him as a child in my dream? He’s 45 years old. And he didn’t look anything like the dream boy when he was that age.
Then I remembered the framed photographs hanging in my childhood home. My picture was there, as well as my two brothers. The fourth photo was of the oldest brother who died six years before I was born. He was about seven years old. He wore a white shirt and bib overalls. As I thought more about it, his long face in the photograph did look very forlorn.
That meant when he said, “Mom is worried about you,” he was talking about our mother who died when I was fourteen years old.
The pieces were coming together for me. For traditional dream interpretation I am the one who is worried about myself, and I chose family members who had already passed to express my subconscious concerns.
For one who has an active imagination, however, I wonder if it weren’t a dream at all. Maybe it was an actual message from the other side saying I’ve got dead folks who are worried about me. It’s nice to know somebody up there cares.

Remember Chapter Seven

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to appreciate his father.
Breaking Lucinda’s thoughts, Cassie came in with a couple of cardboard fruit boxes. “I found them boxes you wanted, Miz Cambridge.”

“Hmm?” She fluttered her eyes.

“The boxes for your books.”

“Oh, thank you, dear. How kind.”

“Where do you want them?”

Lucinda stood to go to the other boxes, bending down to turn them on their sides, but found she was too weak to move them. “Here. Would you help me turn them on their sides? Like shelves.”

“Sure, Miz Cambridge.

Lucinda and Cassie knelt by the books and boxes, arranging them as library shelving. As much as she tried, she couldn’t shake the memory of Vernon. “Cassie? Do you remember Vernon Singleberry?”

“Vernon? Why sure.” Cassie continued to put the boxes on their sides. “He was always kinda funny actin’, wasn’t he?”

“Not really. I—“

“Wasn’t that somethin’, what happened to ‘im? That reminds me. Nancy and her little girl are goin’ to be here for lunch today.”

Lucinda decided Cassie was not the right person with which to share her thoughts at this moment. “Yes, I know.”

“Shirley is so cute.” She giggled.

“Yes, she is.”

“Ain’t it a shame?” Cassie clucked her tongue and sighed, “Love child.”

“Mrs. Cambridge!”

Vernon’s voice caused her to jump and look up. She was back in her classroom. She couldn’t help but smile as Vernon, wearing an ironed short sleeved shirt, jumped around the room.

“I can’t believe it! I got a date for the spring dance!”

At first Lucinda studied Cassie’s face. It was obvious she didn’t hear what the old teacher was hearing. Lucinda stood, leaving Cassie to her task, which evidently engrossed her very much.

“So it’s spring now,” Lucinda whispered.

“This is a really great day for you to remember!”

“Of course, it’s spring, Miz Cambridge.” Cassie it seemed, was not as oblivious to the situation as Lucinda thought. “Didn’t you know that?”

Lucinda turned back to Cassie and smiled. “What, dear?”

“I got all these books stacked up the way you wanted.” Cassie stood with a grunt.

“Thank you, Cassie. That’s very sweet of you.”

Vernon was still jumping around the room like a puppy dog expressing its joy that its owner had finally arrived home. “And I’ve got a girl!”

“Are you all right, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda looked back at Cassie whose face was scrunched up with concern. “Yes, dear. Thank you, dear.”

“You already thanked me.”

“I did?”

“You better take a nap before lunch,” Cassie advised her.

“That might be a good idea.”

Cassie went to the door, turned back and smiled. “Remember, we’re havin’ chicken and stars!”

After Cassie disappeared down the hall, Lucinda was very pleased to give Vernon her complete attention. She never knew anyone who could be so overjoyed by something as simple as a date to a school dance.

“I can’t believe I finally got a girlfriend — well, one date, but at least it’s my first date,
and she’s wonder—“

“Slow down, Vernon, you’re running your sentences together.” She slipped into her rocking chair. Suddenly she was back in her classroom, sitting at her desk trying to act prim and proper. She inhaled. Yes, she could even smell the freshly mopped floors. “And be careful. The janitor mopped the floors before classes began this morning. I don’t want you to slip and fall.”

He froze in mid-whirl, focused on Lucinda and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be careful.”

“That’s better.”

Vernon inhaled intensely before resuming his ballet of joy. “I mean, I asked her out, of course, but she was really hinting for me to ask her by asking if I was going to the dance and saying—“

“Slow, slow.”

He nodded again and sat in the chair closest to Lucinda’s desk. A look came over him as though he were trying to recall a Shakespearean soliloquy to deliver. “She said she didn’t know who she was going with. Billy Bob had hinted he might ask her. But she said she didn’t really want to go with him.” In fact, he spoke so slowly and with deliberate conviction, Vernon’s Texas drawl almost faded away.

“I don’t blame her. Billy Bob Longabaugh is a cretin.” Her mouth tightened with disapproval.

“Now I don’t know if Billy Bob was really going to ask her or not — you know what I think?” He cocked his head as though looking for approval for his theory of social interaction among aboriginal peoples.

Lucinda smiled, becoming caught up in Vernon’s exuberance. Her mind thought of her days as a young woman, wishing she had been able to whip up such emotion in young men. Quickly she chastised herself for being so imprudent and returned to her function of educator. “No, what do you think?”

“I think she said that so I wouldn’t think she was desperate to go out with just anybody, that she really wanted to go to the dance with me.” He stated his conclusion impassively, but could not contain himself, leaping from the chair and exploding around the room. “With me! With me!”

“Close your mouth and count to ten before you start hyperventilating.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Vernon stopped and frowned, trying to remember his numbers. “One, two . . . .”

“I’m really very pleased you finally asked a nice young girl to a school dance.”

“. . . three, four . . . .”

“You know I’ve been after you all school year to expand socially as well as academically.”

“. . . five, six . . . .”

“I know it’s hard for a shy person. I was terribly shy and had a hard time getting dates for proms and the such . . . .”

“. . . seven, eight, nine, ten. I don’t care if I do hyperventilate! I can’t believe a girl as pretty as Nancy Meyers would be interested in me. I . . . .” His voice trailed off when he noticed the change in expression on Lucinda’s face. “You don’t look very happy for me, Mrs. Cambridge.”

“I am, Vernon,” she replied in her soft tone reserved for reciting poetry.

“That didn’t sound very enthusiastic.”

A wry smile crossed Lucinda’s wrinkled face. “I’m an old woman, Vernon. If I get as enthusiastic as you do, I’d have a heart attack.”

“Oh.” He ducked his head. “Then maybe I shouldn’t ask what I was going to ask.”

“Go ahead.

“Well, there’s one problem to all this business about taking Nancy to the spring dance. I don’t know how to dance.”

“And you want me to teach you.” With all of the will she had developed in decades of teaching, she kept her face expressionless.

“Yes.”

She stood to walk towards him. “I suppose I can’t neglect that part of your education.”

“Great!”

Lucinda and Vernon stood opposite each other. Her heartbeat quickened as she became aware of his height, broad shoulders and large, rough hands. She could not help but tense her body.

“Anything wrong, Mrs. Cambridge?”

“Oh. Um. No. I was just trying to decide how to start,” she lied. After a pause, she continued, “All right. Let’s start with a waltz. Now, put your left hand at my waist and extend your right hand out and I’ll take it.”

“Like this?” Vernon put his left arm around her. Lucinda gently pulled away.

“I said at my waist, not around my waist,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

Placing a bright smile on her lips, Lucinda tried to recover her propriety. “That’s quite all right. Now put your left hand on my hip.”

Vernon followed her instruction circumspectly.

“That’s right,” she said with encouragement. “Now extend your right arm.” Lucinda took Vernon’s right hand.

“Am I doing it right so far?”

“Yes, you are. Now take one step forward with your right foot, then a step back and behind your right with your right foot and a step back and behind your right with your left and repeat. One, two, three, one, two, three . . . .”

“Now you’re running your sentences together.” He grinned impishly.

“It’s really quite simple.” She chose to ignore his comment. “We’ll go slowly. Now right foot forward.”

They began to move slowly, awkwardly.

“Here we go,” he said in the same manner he would say it if he had been on a rollercoaster as it pulled out of the station.

“Then left foot forward — but not on my foot.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry.”

Two Pennies

Two weeks ago Frank’s breakfast buddies suggested over their omelets that they all go to the opening of a ballroom dancing school. Anyone showing proof of being on Social Security got in free.
Before Frank could respond, a woman in a flamboyant caftan and large dangling earrings entered the restaurant and immediately stopped in front of Frank and pointed.
“Are you married?”
“No.” He unconsciously reached for the gold band on his left hand.
Without another word she walked away, disappearing in the crowd.
“That was weird,” Charley observed. “As I was saying, let’s have a guys’ night out where we get to touch some old broads without getting slapped. What do you say, Frank?”
“I don’t know,” he demurred. “I have two left feet, and Joan had two right feet so it seemed to work out okay. But me with a woman with two normal feet, well, that could prove embarrassing.”
“Look, you’ll probably never see any of these women again, so why do you care?” Charley asked.
“You guys are overlooking the main word in this conversation,” Ralph interjected. “Free. We can’t break the old fart’s creed. Never pass up anything free.”
So on the night of the opening Frank dressed, not really knowing what to think. He heard Charley honk. The time to think was over. It was time to go. The dance school was in an old car repair garage. Frank had gone there a few times until he realized there was a cheaper garage down the street. The parking lot was full. It was amazing how many people come out for something free.
Just as he stepped out of Charley’s car he looked down and saw a shiny penny on the ground. Legend had it when a person found a shiny penny someone who had died was letting them know everything was all right. His wife Joan wanted him to have a good time. Frank didn’t know if he believed in such things, but just for tonight he decided he wanted to, so he picked up the penny and put it in his pocket.
The old garage looked pretty good now. The grease on the floor had been cleaned up and replaced by wooden tiles. The whole place was painted black and mirrors covered every wall. A mirror ball twirled above, radiating twinkling lights everywhere, making everyone in attendance look twenty years younger.
Frank stopped in his tracks when he saw the woman in the middle of the room holding a microphone. She was slender and straight, wearing a white beaded jacket and black beaded short dress and looked just like Anne Bancroft. For the first time in years, Frank felt he was developing a crush on the woman who glittered like the Milky Way.
“I need a partner to show how easy dancing is,” she announced in a wonderful accent.
Frank couldn’t tell if she were Spanish or Italian. Either way, shivers went up and down his spine.
She pointed in his direction. “I choose you, the cute one. You know who you are.” Walking over to him, she took his hand and led him back to the center. “You handsome men, you always play hard to get.” She smiled. “Have you ever danced?”
“Not in a long time. I’m afraid I was never any good,” he whispered.
She patted his cheek. “And he’s shy too. Isn’t that adorable?”
Frank noticed her red fingernail polish matched her lipstick. Inhaling her perfume, he tried not to faint.
“Don’t be scared. We’ll start out easy. A waltz.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, the music began. Frank could hear the three-quarter time distinctly and moved his feet accordingly. The glittering woman melded into him and with her legs led him around the dance floor, creating the illusion that he knew what he was doing. He knew the tune well enough to know it was about over. He was relieved he had not embarrassed him, yet he had to admit he didn’t want to let her go.
“Dip me,” she whispered.
Now dipping was something Frank knew how to do. It was his favorite cheap trick and his wife Joan loved it. He moved his left hand up to support her head and the right went to the small of her back—which he noticed was, indeed, very small. Then he gently bent her backwards and smiled. What he wasn’t expecting was that she planted a kiss on his lips. They immediately came back up, and the crowd applauded with enthusiasm.
“Ladies, ladies,” the woman in sequins announced. “You must dance with this man! He is very strong!”
The next two hours were both pleasurable and frustrating. Frank ended up dancing with every old woman in the house, each one wanting to be dipped. On the other hand, Frank kept an eye on the dance instructor and try as he may, he was not able to get close to her for a return performance. His buddies patted him on the back.
“I didn’t know you had it in you,” Charley said.
“When she kissed you I thought you were going down for the count,” Ralph added.
The three of them had almost decided to put out the dough for a month’s lessons when the glittery woman took the microphone back to the center of the dance floor.
“Thank you all so much for attending the grand opening of my ballroom dance school. Enrollment forms are on the table by the door. But most of all, I want to thank my husband. After he retired he agreed to turn his auto repair shop into this beautiful ballroom. David, please come out and take a bow.”
A tall, bald fat man lumbered out wearing black slacks and an oversized black shirt. She practically jumped into his arms, landing a big, long kiss. How she found his lips through that bushy beard, Frank would never figure out.
“Tough luck, pal,” Charley muttered.
“Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here,” Ralph added.
Frank was about to climb into the backseat of Charley’s car when he looked down and saw another penny which he swore was in the same place of the penny he picked up going in. But this one was dirty and smudged. Joan was trying to tell him something. Maybe like even though the evening didn’t turn out the way he wanted, she’d always be with him. Or something like that.
Frank left the dirty penny on the ground.

The Future Me

When I awoke this morning I was confused. Looking down at me was my mother. She’s been dead for fifty years, but there she was, looking as young and beautiful as I remembered from my childhood.
“And how is Jerry this morning?” she asked.
I was so dumbfounded. I could not find the words to respond. This bald man came up, put his arm around my mother’s shoulder and smiled.
“Look, Daddy, Jerry is wide awake and ready for breakfast.”
Okay, this man was not my father. My father was not bald and he rarely if ever smiled. Mother picked me up and handed me to this man she called Daddy. How this guy could hold me I could not figure out. I was a two hundred pound old man. For that matter how could my mother pick me up? And when I was the size for my father to carry, he never did. At least I did not remember him carrying me. There was something terribly wrong about this situation. They were calling me Jerry and that was my name. The woman looked very much like my mother. And this man was a complete stranger.
“Bring Jerry in here, Anthony,” the woman called out from the kitchen.
Now I was really confused. My father’s name was Grady. And I never knew anyone named Anthony until my daughter started dating. My daughter, where was she? For that matter, where was my wife? And why was I peeing in my pants? I hadn’t peed in my pants in more than sixty years.
“I’ve got to change his diaper first, Heather,” this man trying to pass himself off as my father said. My real father never changed a diaper in his life.
I wrinkled my tiny brow. He called my mother Heather. My mother’s name was Florida. My daughter’s name was Heather. All this confusion made me very unhappy. The only thing I could think to do was cry.
“Why is the baby crying?” Heather called out from the kitchen.
“If your pants were wet you’d cry too,” this man who called himself Anthony said.
After he changed my diaper, I began to feel hungry. Bacon and eggs would taste good, I thought. Maybe not. I now could not rightly remember what bacon and eggs tasted like. I had bad dreams all the time. My wife could usually tell me what they meant, but at this moment I could not remember her name. I did remember how good that bottle of milk tasted. My father—whatever his actual name was—was pretty good slipping it between my little lips.
I decided he was not so bad. I looked at my mother and knew I had loved her a long time, way back in a past that was fading away and into a future that was brand new yet so familiar. Maybe even better.
Author’s note: This is, of course, sort of a fantasy. I already have a grandson named Liam.

Remember Chapter Six

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley.
“I’m sorry, Vernon, but I’m confused.” As she stared at him he came into sharper focus. She noticed his fair-skinned cheeks were rosy from the cold. And the prettiest eyes she had ever seen on a man.

“Of all the days of my life you had to remember, why did you have to pick this one?” Vernon kicked the desk knocking his books to the floor, scattering them everywhere.
“Please! Compose yourself!” Lucinda’s hand went to her mouth. She rubbed her left arm. “You’re making me very nervous.”

Vernon paused, looked at her and breathed deeply. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cambridge. It was very rude of me to break into your conference period like this. I’ll gather my books and leave.”

“No, you don’t have to leave. Just calm down and tell me what’s the matter.”

“Oh, it’s daddy again,” he replied as he picked up the last book and plopped into a chair.

“What did your father do?”

“It’s what he didn’t do.” Vernon held his head in his hands. “My grades from the first semester came in the mail, and I showed them to him. I made an A in algebra.”

“And all he noticed was the C in English composition,” she said, trying to anticipate his story.

“No. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

“He didn’t notice anything.” Lucinda had a bad problem with correcting the grammar of people trying to communicate with her. Since she did not see this characteristic a problem, she would probably never change it.

“No.” Vernon looked at her. “You wouldn’t notice anything. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

She could not help but smile. “I should have given you a B.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Good grief, he just doesn’t care about anything but the farm.”

“Exactly what did he say or do?”

“He looked at the grades for a moment, put the paper down and said I needed to mend the fence out back of the barn before the goats got out.”

She clasped her slender fingers in front of her face. “From what you’ve told me, that seems to be his way, isn’t it?”

“But it doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make me feel like he appreciates what I’m doing. I mean, I put in a lot of work on the farm and pull a full load at school. Okay, I only had one A and a bunch of Cs but I didn’t flunk anything.

“I think I’m going to give you today’s assignment early, so you can start thinking about it.” She went to her blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk.

“What?” The comment caught Vernon off guard. “I thought we were talking about daddy.”

“I want you to write an essay on the person you most admire.” She wrote Most Admired at the top of the board.

“That’ll be easy. I’ll write about you.” He smiled broadly without a hint of the overly complimentary nature of his reply.

“Oh. Well, thank you.” On a line below the title she wrote My Father

Vernon slumped in the chair. “Aww, you gotta be kiddin’.”

“Please, don’t lose your diction along with your composure.” She looked over her shoulder to smile.

“Very well. You must be kidding.” His mouth twitched with aggravation.

“No, I’m not. Get out a piece of paper and pen.” Lucinda turned and leaned against her desk.

“Right now?”

“Yes. I want you to take notes.” She had set aside all her reservations and fears about remembering her time with Vernon, and she was enjoying it immensely.

“I know what you’re doing. You’re using the assignment as an excuse to lecture me about daddy,” he grumbled.

“Nonsense. Now list all your father’s good qualities.” She turned back to the board and wrote the numeral one. “Put a number one and a period. At least it will be a start.”

Vernon wrote that, then looked up. “Now what?”

“Surely you can think of something admirable about your father.”

“No.” It was a flat statement, devoid of emotion.

“Try.”

“He hasn’t done much for me.” He put the pen down.

She went to his side to look over his shoulder at the paper. “You’re always talking about how strong you are.” Lucinda patted his back but quickly pulled her hand away. “You got your strength because he had you work on the farm with him. He helped you there. And how many sons get the opportunity to work side by side with their fathers?”

“Guys get muscles working on a chain gang too, but that’s no reason to thank the warden.” He looked up at her, dead serious.

“Oh Vernon, you’re so negative.” She walked back to the board and began her own list. “Your father is dependable. He has always been there for you and always will. He is steady, sturdy, a sound foundation on which you have built a pretty wonderful person.”

“In other words, he’s like a rock.”

“Yes!” She swung around and smiled. “Solid as a rock. Never crumbling. The rock of ages.”

“But a rock has no feelings. It’s cold. You can’t hug a rock. A rock can’t say I love you.”

Feeling defeated, she sat at her desk. “You learned metaphors too well.”

“Thank you.” His deadpan response was softly delivered.

“But,” she paused to reorganize her thoughts, “your father is not a stone. He indeed has a heart and a soul and feelings for you whether you can see it or not.”

“You don’t know him.” He nodded perceptively. “You’ve never even met him.”

“But I knew a man like that.”

“Who?”

“My late husband couldn’t express emotion. When I’d get home from a night class late he’d burst into a worst tirade. But I knew he was worried about me. He — he may not have hugged and kissed me much, but I knew he loved me.” In the back of her mind Lucinda wondered if she were trying to convince him or herself.

“My father doesn’t care if I come home late. As long as I milk the cows he doesn’t care.”

“Well then, that proves your father trusts your judgment.” She gestured to him, pleased she had finally made a cogent argument.

“Then your husband didn’t trust you?”

She shook her head. “You’re confusing me.”

“I guess I better go now.” He gathered his books.

“Yes, I think you should,” she sighed in defeat.

“Good bye.” He stood and walked to the door.

“Vernon?”

“Yes, ma’am?” He turned to look at her, his face now clear of the darkness that covered it just moments ago.

“If you can write a paper that fools me into believing you admire your father, I’ll give you an A.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vernon replied with a smile before melting away into her subconscious.

“As I recall, he got an F on that paper,” she said to herself. “I suppose it was a tribute to his inherent honesty and integrity he couldn’t write anything he didn’t believe.”