Shoreline 04

Eff-eee-Two-Oh-Three

Summer, 1995

With a we’re-colleagues-you-and-I smile, Allison asked the front desk receptionist seven days later, “What happened to Constantine?”

The woman read Allison’s name tag. “What makes you think anything happened to Mister Gekas?”

I didn’t see him around the last three times I worked.”

The receptionist paused, still focusing on the name tag as if it were Allison’s biography. “Perhaps you should not go getting yourself too close to the residents.”

Allison frowned. She frowned? No, it was a small pout meant for effect. “Why not?”

Having managed to read to the end of the name tag, the receptionist raised her eyes to the pout. She ran a basement bootleg beauty parlor, but she did not yet dare tell Allison she needed to add some interest to her plumb-bob-straight hair. Maybe a bit of bleaching, some wave, highlights, most importantly some bangs or something to keep her from hooking the dull hair behind her ears. The ears were lovely, but my goodness, they were not pierced. Makeup she would get to later, after she talked to Allison about that dismal hair. “Allison, are you the daughter of the judge?”

Allison nodded and smiled her I-am-covering-up-a-family-secret smile.

Some of the old people here can be . . . needy. The men can be needy of a young girl in the wrong way. And, you know, Allison, not many stay here that long, you know what I mean?”

Allison grasped everything the receptionist meant and several things the woman did not intend to mean. She beamed with her I-am-a-confident-and-mature-woman smile. “I was afraid something like that had happened. We’re just sorta friends. I hardly even know him, you know.”

Allison had found the right smile to charm the resistant receptionist. “Constantine has some nieces living hereabouts. They’re real good to him.” She shuffled through a few cards. “He’s been out since Wednesday. S’posed to be back tonight after dinner. Have you ever had your hair permed?”

Allison smiled her long-practiced I-am-not-offended-by-how-you-perceive-me smile. “When I was little. It got all frizzy . . . thank you for your help.” She turned away.

The next morning was Allison’s second day on her second job working the early morning shift at McDonalds. The imperceptive manager put her in the back instead of out front greeting the customers. Allison’s brother, who that week discovered she worked there, did not tell the parents because he saw them even less than did Allison. It was a month before one of her mother’s many friends told Allison’s mother, who said to the friend, “Now that is good. We are teaching her self-sufficiency.”

When Allison came out from behind the counter at the end of her shift at 10:30, she spotted Constantine sitting alone at a table for two. Even from the back he was distinctive. She purchased a small coffee, which she did not like, but it would be an excuse to wheedle her way into the other chair.

As he stared at the empty seat across from him, his right hand tapped the edge of an unopened pale mauve envelope against his left hand. A red, gold, and black uniform of a McDonalds employee entered his periphery. Now, as he thought about it, which was better than thinking about the contents of his latest missive from his past, the colors of the uniform suggested a gored Angus. That man, what was his name, Ray Aldo? No that was an actor. Aldo Ray. That man who had made a fortune to the detriment of Taconite Era America. Did anyone make a fortune to the betterment of America? Anyway, the man, whatever his name—Kroc, Ray Kroc—he should have chosen less drab colors. Were the colors chosen to hide blood and grease stains? Maybe uniforms the color of Charlotte’s stationary would be better? No. That color revealed Constantine’s emotional blood stains.

The uniform was still standing there. He looked up into the Arrowhead’s most patient smile. It took him a moment to gather himself from his walkabout from reality. “Have you left us. I mean quit the Gray Acres?”

No. It’s a boring summer. I can do two jobs and make more money for my escape.”

Still tapping the envelope, Constantine did not rise to her bait. She gave him a I’m-a-little-lost-girl-looking-for-a-place-to-sit smile, which he managed to interpret. “”If you wish to sit, here . . .” he pointed the envelope at the other chair. She sat, leaned back, and smiled her most disarming smile, which disarmed him, which he covered by chattering. “Now that you are an insider working here, you can find out if they call these things on which we are sitting chairs. It seems more like a perch, a convenient place to alight for a short time like birds on telephone wires before conveniently moving on, the convenience being for McDonalds and not us, as convenience stores are convenient for shoplifters.”

In a few seconds he had carried the conversation far past her hinted topic of escape. She switched to a I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-talking-about-and-no-idea-what-to-say smile.

I was afraid,” Constantine continued as he placed the envelope face down on the table, “that our Hester Prynne had gotten the best of you.”

Who?” she asked still smiling despite pinching her eyebrows together, a difficult bit of muscle coordination, he thought.

Our Ms. Heather Gorse. She does not mean to be so severe, nor do I mean to be so snide to her, but neither of us can help her or himself. She is a fine manager. I am told that for women to succeed in management they have to be . . . well, severe and impersonal.”

Oh, Ms. Gorse. I like her, even though she’s kinda like my mother.” Allison had not meant to say something so revealing. She was distracted by the letter. She wanted to ask him if he was going to tear up this one, too. Constantine was also distracted by the letter, wondering if he would read it or throw it away without benefit of bun and condiments or entomb it in a Big Mac coffin without opening it.

He sipped his coffee. She held her coffee between her hands because they were cold in the Taconite Era conditioned air, even though it was seventy degrees outside.

Constantine, what you said about escape. What did you mean?”

What did I say? I have forgotten.”

I’m confused. I’m not sure . . . something like you try to escape but always come back. I’m hoping I don’t move back.”

Did I say that? Sounds like something I would say. Thousands have escaped, or we would not have a dwindling population.” He sipped his coffee. “Ah, this coffee is true Hematite.”

Eff-eee-Two-Oh-Three.”

How do you know that?”

We had to memorize it in eighth grade science. I have no idea why that means hematite.”

He laughed and sipped more coffee. “It’s one sort of iron oxide. There are at least two sorts that I know of. Rust in other words . . . To escape, Allison, you must shake off the rust. Some believe the geography of a person’s childhood is one of the things that shapes who the person becomes. Here in our realm it may be out geology, not geography.”

Shake off rust so I can escape?”

Certainly. To move on you must let go.” He gave a wry smile to the letter. “But does your homeland ever escape you, Northeastern Minnesota more than most places? And, you can never go home again.”

She had ceased to smile. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

You will leave here, as you must, as I hope you will. But here will always be a part of who you are. You will come back to visit one day, expecting here to still be here, but here will have changed, in reality and in your memory. When you come back, people here will expect you to be the same. They will decide the changes in you caused by your leaving are an insult to them and to here. You can never quite leave, and you can never really come back . . . Never go to class reunions.”

Trying to work it out, she frowned.

It happened even to Jesus.”

She paused to try to integrate this stray thought into his monologue. “My parents had me confirmed, but we don’t ever go there.”

Which church?”

Lutheran, the big one on the edge of town with the swooping roof.”

Sychar Lutheran.”

Yes, that one.”

I am Orthodox, of course, being a good Greek . . . a moderately good Greek.”

Do you believe in Jesus and God?”

And the Holy Ghost. Yes. So little else makes sense, why not a God and Savior? You see, Jesus could not escape the Northeastern Minnesota of the Holy Land and he could not go back.”

She smiled in amusement. “You’re putting me on.”

Jesus was from Nazareth as we are from the Iron Range.”

Was that a country?”

A region of a country, like the Arrowhead is a region of the country, a boondocks region like where we are from, you and I. As Jesus traveled around Palestine, people could tell where he was from and they made a joke out of Nazareth. In one of the Gospels someone asks if anything good could come out of Nazareth. But when he went back home to preach, the local yokels said he was just a kid who grew up there, so how wonderful could he be? See, you never can leave the Iron Range behind, and you can never come back.”

She thought for awhile. He noticed she did not drink her coffee.

Of course,” he told her, “that only matters if you let it matter. Do me a favor: smile for me again.”

She did, which cracked his bedrock foundation, that she could smile so warmly and naturally upon command. How much did she front? She was more complex than he had realized, and “shame on me,” he told himself, for simplifying her. Or was she naive? How naive? Naiveté could be an asset for escapees.

I don’t want to just escape,” she told him. “I want to meet new people and have new experiences.”

There you have it. Cynical old me did not understand what you want.”

She smiled an appreciative smile. She wanted to ask about the letter. Would his answer to that question be as befuddling as his answer to her first question?

He saw her looking at the letter. “Allison, as a young lady, you probably know these sorts of things. What is the name for the color of this envelope?”

Pink . . . or maybe violet. Oh, I know! My friend Treesh is working right now. She will know.”

She would have taken the envelope and run to to the counter, but Constantine put his hand on it. She smiled a honey-rich smile, but he drained his coffee and stood.

I must trundle or I will miss my noon feeding at the zoo.” He picked up the envelope, folded it in half, and put it in his pocket. Pointing at her full cup of coffee, he said, “You did not need to buy the coffee. You could have simply asked to sit down. Nothing matters unless you let it matter.”

Allison disagreed about the coffee. She knew it was part of the leverage to be invited to sit with him. Watching him leave, she smiled after him. “Escape or adventure—are they the same thing?” she asked herself.

Which was the deepest question she had ever asked.

Grease in the Fingerprints; Calluses on the Heart

Summer, 1995

For the rest of June, through July, and to the middle of August, they had only passing conversations. Allison feared that in a continuation of the conversation she would reveal too much. She deduced, emotionally deduced, that he did not want another serious conversation with her. Constantine was afraid he would intrude into her life or give her unwanted and perhaps damaging advice. He did not want to see past her smiles, which would get him involved. Every time they met, she issued her off-the-rack smile. He melted at the core but stood erect in the shell. She cleaned Green Acres and made McMuffins. He pondered “life, the universe, and everything,” at which he wished he could just smile, as did Allison, or laugh about it, as did Douglas Adams.

One day in late July, Allison heard Heather Gorse tell the receptionist that she wondered what was going on with Mr. Gekas because he had been nice to her, not nice maybe, but at least not mean. The next time Allison saw Constantine, she gave him her heart-melting smile, which had a new luster. She knew what had caused it, as did Constantine. They passed each other in the lobby without comment: she on her way out to meet her ride; he on his way to the ham loaf dinner he enjoyed but called pate de Arnold maigre, after he had gone to the library to find find the French word for thin, meaning not the fat content.

A week before her junior year began, Allison quit McDonalds but kept her job at Green Acres. When she went out Green Acres’ front door after a Tuesday afternoon shift, she saw Constantine sitting on a bench in in a small patio beside the door. Her ride was late, as he said he might be. Allison dropped down on the bench beside Constantine, realizing too late he had been asleep. He turned and smiled at her. She apologized for waking him. He thanked her without telling her that he often fell asleep during the day, which was new. “I see a change in Allison,” he whispered. “And I see why.”

She answered with a shy but proud smile.

Is he the one?”

She laughed before she said, “No-oo. He is nice. My first boyfriend, that’s all. We have fun.”

Constantine studied her eyes, until she turned her head away to check in the looping driveway. “I like his family. I spend lotsa time at his house and with them. I fit right in.” She turned back to him and smiled in joy.

He asked, “Does he fit into your family?”

After a disconcerted twitch of her face, she switched to her covering-a-secret smile. “He doesn’t come to our house much.”

Constantine now was sure she was fronting about her family. What was she hiding? His two and a half years of teaching taught him that a surprising number of students are hurting and covering up secrets. He feared becoming involved. He did not have a good track record of becoming involved.

His family is a bunch of mechanics. His grandfather and father have a business, and two of his uncles have another business. They have rough hands with lotsa calluses. You can see the lines in their hands, you know, like fingerprints, from the dirt and grease they can’t scrub out.”

That bothers you, their dirty hands?”

No! I think it’s cool.” She smiled in emotional confusion.

Your boyfriend, he must be a Hatanpa.”

Lee Hatanpa.”

Are his hands like that, too?”

Yes.” She smiled in sweet joy. Did her smile affect Lee as much as it affected him? “I like holding his hand when we walk. He plans to go in the Army when we graduate in two years to learn to be a diesel mechanic and then come back home to take over the business. His father has arthritis that’s getting kinda bad.”

Allison watched him survey his own hands, splaying out his fingers, looking at the backs and palms, raising the hands to his face to study the fingernails. He explained, “I will be buried with soft and clean hands. My hands used to be callused and have dirt in the lines. They’re not even wrinkled from old age . . . The residuals of my life will not be calluses and dirty nails but a raft of neckties. Maybe I will have the undertaker line my coffin with all my neckties.”

Why do you have lotsa neckties?”

They were an easy gift to give Uncle Constant-Pain, as they call me as a joke. You know, birthdays, Christmas. Lately my three nieces have even included me in Fathers Day. So more ties, which means I have to wear those ties to family gatherings, which means they give me more neckties. I still wear a necktie whenever they come to get me, which they often do. I do not want to be ungrateful for what they do for me. I just say ‘thank you’ and expand my collection.”

I mean, what job did you have that meant you hadda wear neckties?”

Project manager. For a construction company. I wrote schedules and timelines. I broke down projects into phases and phases into steps and steps into details. I tracked progress and wrote reports. I kept all the T’s dotted and all the I’s crossed. The family that owned the company required us managers to wear ties at work to make us look like bosses and not like mere employees. The real workers called us the The Neckties, and not as a compliment. Why are your boyfriend’s hands cool?”

After a pause to think with a peaceful smile on her face, Allison answered, “It’s like everything’s all mixed up together in his family. Their work and their meals at home together at the table talking.”

That doesn’t happen in your family.” It was a flat statement, not a question.

Her covering smile appeared in automatic reflex. “My parents are a judge and a social worker so they can’t talk about their work, and one or the other is always busy at dinner time. We have dinner, whoever’s there anyway. Lee’s family has supper. We have dinner even though it’s more like a lunch. Lee’s mother does the business work for both businesses. The uncles and grandparents come over and everybody laughs and talks.” Her smile became pensive. “Lee’s hands are big and strong. I can feel his calluses. He has a Band-Aid on a finger many days. So, I can feel he’s there . . .”

Constantine’s eyes watered. He took out a white handkerchief, faded from many washings in the building’s industrial washing machines. Noticing how much the cloth looked like the skin of his face, Allison wanted to put her arm around him, but she guessed the receptionist was watching out her window close behind them. When he regained his composure, he asked, “But his working hands do not make him the one?”

He is planning to go in the Army after our graduation and then come back. I want to leave and never come back. He’s my first boyfriend; I’m his first girlfriend. It’s nice to be . . . just together.” She turned and gave him her shy sweet smile. Constantine bowed his head and wiped his eyes again. When he looked up, he saw a pickup stopped in front of them. “My friend Austin thinks it’s a hoot that I’m riding around in an old pickup. Would you like to meet him?”

Constantine shook his head no. She realized he was embarrassed by his tears.

Because he bowed his head back down, he did not see Allison wave to him from the pickup, which was why he bowed his head. He knew what Allison did not know—what had made his emotions fragile. It was the latest pale mauve letter resting in his pocket, which he had made the mistake of reading. Tomorrow morning he would walk to McDonalds.

The receptionist’s eyes burned into his back. When he went inside in a few minutes, he would stop to compliment her on her makeup, which was in fact excessive, and her hairdo, which looked like an engineering project. He would be careful not to be lavish with his praise or she would think he was being a dirty old man to her as well. Come to think of it, he would be lavish. Let her think what she wanted

Bonbon Voyage

Fall, 1995

Through the fall Allison and Constantine met on Saturday mornings in the blue wing lounge, which he began calling the Blues Lounge, but only to himself and to the new building dog, which had taken a liking to him, which proved the perverse nature of the beast, and all beasts for that matter, and what creature is more beastly than humans? He began calling the dusty tan and chocolate neutered female mutt Perv, which Heather Gorse demanded he stop, which insured he continued to use the name, which meant other building residents picked up on the name. It lifted Constantine’s mood to hear the innocent old ladies calling the passive animal Perv.

Saturdays after breakfast Constantine always read in the Blues Lounge. Perv always slept by his chair. Allison always vacuumed and lemon sprayed his lounge first. Perv always sneezed at the chemical lemon and then always forgave her. It became clear to Allison and Constantine, perhaps even to Perv, that they did not know how to small-talk each other. His nieces joked with him that Uncle Consant-Pain could only be serious or snide and that snide was another way to be serious. The old man and the young woman were both grateful to Perv for providing an easy topic for light conversation. Allison had grown up petless. Once in junior high she decided that since she was raising herself she could get a cat on her own, which she would communicate by adding cat litter and cat food to the shopping list. Instead she attached herself to the one dog and three cats at Austin’s house.

The Saturday before Thanksgiving Allison found Constantine in his favorite Blues Lounge chair wearing dress slacks, a pale blue dress shirt, and a blue and white tie, which she did not recognize as the colors of the Greek flag. In front of him lay a pair of well-polished loafers. His legs were crossed in the chair. Beside him stood a wheeled suitcase, which had all of Perv’s attention. When Allison pushed the silent vacuum near him to plug it into the wall, he quit reading and set the book face down in the cradle of his legs, which allowed her to read the title, A Canticle for Leibowitz. If he had known the significance of shopping lists in her life, he might have told her to read the book, even though he probably should be protecting her from life’s cynical truths. Perv sniffed Allison’s feet, accepted the girl’s caresses, and resumed the olfactory analysis of the suitcase, as if smells could explain human behavior. Allison gave Constantine her this-is-too-obvious-a-question-to-have-to-be-asked smile.

My three nieces are taking me on furlough for a week. The one who drew the short straw gets me for three days.”

That’s nice of them.”

Nice, he would tell Perv when he came back, if he remembered, was too flat a word to accompany such an elegant smile. “It is generous of their food, gas, time, and patience. How will you spend the holiday?”

Her answering smile was a shield for her heart. “My parents are going to Chicago to visit my oldest brother and shop. But I could go along. But he has a small apartment. But I am having Thanksgiving at my friend Austin’s house. I’m sorta a part of her family.” She turned away to plug in the vacuum.

Perv put her head on Constantine’s knee and looked up at him with baleful accusing hang-dog eyes, which moved him as deeply as did Allison’s sad eyes enfolded by her self-defending smile. “Look at forlorn old Perv, accusing me of abandonment.”

He regretted the joke, but Allison smiled her relief at a new topic.

Allison, don’t you believe this liar of a dog. The moment I am out the door, she will be down in the green wing begging bonbons from Mrs. Taylor.”

What are bonbons?”

Oh, the ravages of time! Bonbons are candies, once reputed to be the daily sustenance of pampered housewives.”

She does know something’s up, though. The receptionist is glad she hangs out with you so she’s not bothering her.”

Watch out. Very soon she will give Perv a perm and paint her nails.”

Her answer was a smile of bemused confusion.

She runs a home beauty parlor, as the stiffness of her hair, the cake on her face, and the cloud of perfume does reveal.”

With a comes-the-dawn smile, Allison said, “Oh, that’s why she’s always talking about my face and hair.” He wanted to tell Allison that her hair and face were perfect. He wanted to, knew he should not, and regretted the reality that prevented him.

A tall thin attractive woman with a youthful demeanor despite her forty-some years strode into the Blues Lounge. “Allison, this is my wonderful chauffeuring niece Carmela. No bonbons grow under her feet.”

While Carmela and Allison smiled at each other, Constantine slipped easily into his loafers, stood, and picked up the suitcase.

Carmela said, “Well, Uncle Constantine, I’ve checked you out for the next week. So there!”

He looked down at the droopy-faced dog. “Perv, the female half of the population always clips my claws. And when you get to my age, womenfolk are more like three-fourths of the population. But why am I talking to you, another female in my life, neutered though you are?”

Be nice, Uncle Constant-Pain. Without us you’d be even more of a shriveled up old scarecrow.”

Allison followed Perv as the dog followed Constantine to the lobby, after which she followed the dog into the green wing and watched her go into Mrs. Taylor’s room.

Bruised; Not Broken

Winter, 1996

On the first Tuesday in the New Year their conversation again rose above labored small talk. As Allison dust mopped the hallways, she passed Constantine’s room. She glanced in and saw him lying on the floor. She started into his room but stopped in the doorway. Still holding her mop, she asked, “Constantine, are you okay there?”

In surprise he turned to look up at her. He was holding a pen and on the floor before him was a clipboard holding several papers. Perv, lying with her head on Constantine’s hip, opened her eyes to accuse Allison of disrupting a luxurious nap. “This is how I write,” Constantine explained. “Hate desks. I write on a raised bench or on the floor.”

What’s the matter with desks?”

Desks are confining. I feel like a scrivener bent over his letters in a dark Victorian office, like Bob Cratchit in Scrooge’s counting house.” He laughed, which startled Perv, who sneezed his disgust. “Excuse my flight of fancy. Lying down is easier. Beds are too soft to be able to write.”

Smiling her confusion, she chose their conversational escape clause. “I see it makes Muffin happy. Perv, I mean.”

Knowing she was being discussed, the dog trotted to Allison for her caresses.

Allison, imagine yourself as our chocolate chip Muffin. If you could pick among all the residents of Gray Acres, would you adopt me?”

Allison forsook her smile to think through her answer, which made Constantine think she was going to say something too truthful. “Maybe . . . ” To his relief, her smile returned. “Maybe, you know, it’s because you ignored her . . . maybe she just didn’t wanna be ignored . . . Dumb Idea. I would choose you because you are very nice, even though you don’t want anybody to know that.” Her smile pinked in embarrassment, then dimmed, then glowed warm red.

My only three friends in Gray Acres: Perv, Allison, and the receptionist, except the receptionist’s good regard is purchased with a few lavish false compliments each week. You two offer friendship freely.” He blinked away the moisture in his eyes.

Allison fidgeted with the handle of the dust mop. “I guess I better get back to work . . . Thank you for the compliment.”

Constantine reviewed their conversation trying to find when he had given her a compliment. Hadn’t she been the granter of a compliment and not the grantee?

When she came back an hour later cleaning the pictures, he was still on the floor. Muffin was rolled on her back asleep beside him. The scene evoked a comfortable smile from her, which Constantine turned in time to see. He said, “Dogs are by nature pack animals. We humans think we adopt dogs, but in fact they add us to their pack.”

Allison tipped her smile to her left side.

Allison, I have asked Perv the question, but she demurred. My doctor, who has summoned me for a visit tomorrow, to which I will walk to prove my health, has mailed to me some forms to complete. One questionnaire plumbs my mental state. The last question asks if I feel like a failure. An answer to the high side of the Lickert scale would indicate depression, I assume. But what if a person were a failure? Some people are, you know. Quite a few actually. And failure at what aspect of our complex humanity? Who succeeds at everything? The question is more complex than they think, don’t you think?”

She tipped her head to the right and showed her pleasure with the her answer. “I demur.”

He laughed too loud for Perv, who rolled over, yawned, and walked to Allison in the doorway.

Perv here is free of such thoughts. I read once, more than once, that nobody on their deathbed wishes they had worked harder. But you see, there are people who should wish they had worked harder. They, of course, do not.”

Allison faded her smile. “Are you saying you’re a failure?” She noticed that beside the clipboard was a pale mauve envelope.

In some ways, of course. How could I not be. Not in all of life’s aspects. No, if I boiled it down to a single vector, I am not a failure. Projects to manage gave me daily satisfaction and satisfaction is success. Yet, you see, a job is a poor measure of a person’s success, but it is how we measure success. Job. Money. Possessions. Prestige. Failure versus success is not a single question on a one-to-five Lickert scale.”

She smiled her nervousness. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Nor do I. Nor does Perv. Nor would the receptionist, who would be moving me through the green door if I asked her these questions. At what do you wish to be a success? No, don’t answer today. Let it percolate, or just let the question go away.” Like a stork stepping from its nest, he arose from the floor. “Shoo now. Off with you so you don’t keep Mr. Not-Right waiting, assuming he is still hanging about.”

Her smile of satisfaction answered the question as she left his doorway.

On Saturday there he was in the Blues Lounge, dog by his chair, book in his hands, and a foot resting on an ottoman with a cane lying beside his outstretched leg. She halted and stared, managing to smile in concern despite her gaping mouth.

Constantine looked at her as if he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “It seems, now, after the fact, not wise for an old man to walk on icy streets and sidewalks.”

Is it broken?”

No. Only a rather severe sprain and deep bruise on my heel . . . It seems time does wound all heels. Now, will time heal my heel? Much worse, someone snitched to my nieces, someone with blood red lips, plucked eyebrows, and highlighted hair, in other words, our front desk deceptionist.”

She could see his suffering was deeper than his foot and ankle. She was too young to understand the threatened loss of independence. She stood over him and smiled her sympathy. He held her gaze to ask, “Do you have an answer to your short essay question?” Her eyes fluttered her confusion; her smile remained true. “At what do you wish to be a success, beyond dusting, vacuuming, and lemon-scenting?”

Oh, yah . . . At first I woulda said a good career, but I don’t know what career. Then I woulda said as a wife and mother. I wanna be married and have two children, a boy first and then a girl. But then I let it percolate. I hadda look up percolate. I wanna be a success at caring about people, not caring for people. I don’t want a career caring for people. Both my parents do that and sometimes for kinda awful people to try and help. They get worn out about it all. So I will be a success if I am a caring person, someone who cares about my family and my friends, and also you know, just strangers.”

Her smile was too bright; her face was too pink. She turned away, plugged in the vacuum, and began vacuuming away from him. When she turned to vacuum back towards him, he was gone.

Part III Coming in Seven Days

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017

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