That winter, several national governments collapsed, or were so changed they were hardly the same government.
Americans were not ready, and things were chaotic. Thomas heard bits and pieces, and realized he could never go back. European governments were generally more stable, at least where there hadn’t been huge immigrant populations from what had been third world countries. Even with generational culture shifts, the Europeans themselves were fairly stable, preferring to keep their lives as orderly as conditions permitted.
Somewhere in southern Finland, the couple living in the cabin on the hill became the center of a resurgent spiritual life in what had become a rather isolated village in a very depressed economy. If anyone remembered how it was back in the spring when the woman first wandered into the village, they pretended they did not. She was a good ten kilos heavier, and didn’t really look the same, anyway. Quite the beauty now, her equally beautiful singing voice filled the chapel during their frequent gatherings, and no one seemed to tire of hearing her.
There were many stateless refugees in those days. She and her husband were simply two more. But because she had a unique talent for translating so many languages, the village drew quite a few families seeking a new life in a quiet rural home. They brought important skills. So the village was a bustling place, with all the rental space taken by permanent residents. More housing was under construction. There were new businesses, a health clinic, a new school, and the village was planning a new chapel, as Thomas was now the de facto pastor. The village had little interest in getting all the right paperwork. Because they paid taxes and tithes, officials far away said little.
It was as if someone in the village had turned on a light, and as the world became a more dark and difficult place, the beacon burned ever brighter.
Last month I received notice it was time for my annual Veteran’s health check. That means heading downtown OKC (the hospital district is just east of downtown) to the VA Hospital. I prayed it would be a warm morning, because I wanted to ride my bike.
It was 50°F. I even bought a new set of lights so I could leave early. It was a nice 16 miles going out, and I had no trouble with drivers acting crazy. Of course, along with the lights I wore my biggest, brightest reflective safety vest. And my helmet has a reflective coating, too. I suppose they saw me.
The doctor was envious of me having the chance to ride that far. He looked at my lab work and all the numbers and said I was in better shape than guys much younger. He asked if I was willing to come out and play role model to other veterans. He hates having to push pills on so many because they won’t take care of themselves. He threw my prescription sheet away.
I guess I’m doing okay. This also explains why I didn’t post as early as normal.
Sure, I’d vote for Ron Paul. I don’t say he’s the greatest, but a whole lot better than the rest. His track record is the whole point. Every other good guy/gal we’ve sent to Washington always broke from their promises to do good stuff. Every one of them.
There aren’t that many Ron Pauls to go around.
So we assume everyone going into office is corrupt. Things would make a lot more sense if we started from that position. Instead of lying to us about what they’re going to do, if we could just come clean, be honest about the corruption, I’d be a lot more likely to play along.
Even the Zionists in our government are dishonest. Their supporters are pretty honest in telling you their agenda — everything for Israel and America be damned. We understand that. But the politicians who carry out this agenda aren’t even honest about that. They always charge a high fee by way of corruption to do it. They aren’t the true believers all of their supporters appear to be.
People get involved in government because they want the extra leverage to enrich themselves. You know it; I know it. They know it and lie about it, and we agree to believe them. What I want is not a stack of Ron Paul types, because I know they will never exist. What I want is a chance to see open dealing, for a politician to tell you where and how they plan to tap that vast stream of revenue. Not the amounts; that’s just a variable about which we’d simply have more lies. Just tell us what your special interests are, whom you favor. Then, carry out your contracts. Just be ethical enough to execute your own corruption honestly.
If just a tiny minority of politicians began doing this, I’d go register to vote. Taking graft is something we should expect, and stop fussing about all that Orwellian talk of “good and honest government.” Good moral people would never allow themselves to be railroaded into government such as we have now. So everyone in government is a crook already, or they wouldn’t be interested. All it would take is just a few being honest about this and I would willingly participate in elections again.
Until then, there really is no point. It’s all fixed at some level, and your vote means less than nothing. You pay extra for the privilege of being raped.
They spent a few moments on the porch exploring the concept of letting her skin tell her she didn’t need the coat.
“When people work outside a lot, their bodies adapt by doing a better job of both warming and cooling as needed. It’s just a bit chilly this morning, but I won’t wear long sleeves because I’ll be warm enough once I start working. You can decide for yourself, but you have to take the time to notice how your body feels. You can learn to anticipate how it will respond to things you’ll do later.”
She left the coat in the cabin as they began climbing the hill into the woods. He began explaining the concept of ego boundaries. Quickly outlining normal human development, he started with infants who have no ego boundaries. “For newborns, when they are hungry, the whole universe is hungry. Parents are just an extension of their desires.” Then he described the normal process of development, the awareness of self, and others as separate. Most people are aware they cannot force others to perform their wishes, because other people have their own will.
Arriving at the last place he worked, he pulled the small tarp open and took out the double-handled saw. The first thing he did was take her to a rather large broken treetop, something that fell in last winters’ heavy winds. He explained how some things required coordination between two people. He showed her the saw could do more work if she was on the other end, pushing while he was pulling, and vice versa. Yet, even he was surprised how much more was accomplished once she got the hang of it.
They worked through the morning, stopping to rest from time to time. An hour short of lunch time she was sweating just a bit, and they had already drained the water jug he had brought. They stopped to rest at the wood pile, which stood at the top of a rise some ways behind the cabin. He heard the sound of an approaching vehicle, not the old man’s tractor. It was an old car pulling a rather large trailer.
He waved at the driver, then commented to Lana, “People can’t see your smile from a distance, so we wave to welcome them into our presence.” She tentatively raised one hand, then dropped it again. She stood silently in place while Thomas went to greet an unusually animated old fellow driving the rig. That is, he was somewhat more subdued than Thomas, and smiled a good bit more than most Finns. He owned one of the cafes in town, and chatted about how slow it was this summer.
Tom helped him load up as much wood as they dared in the trailer. He waved again as the car braked hard to control the descent back down the long gravel drive toward the main road. He found Lana sitting on one of the logs. “Ready for lunch?”
She nodded her head and he reached out his hand to help her up. She paused, looking at it. “It’s both to help you and to touch you as a friend.”
“Friend,” she repeated with just a hint of a smile, and took his hand. She continued holding it for a few meters as they walked.
He sang an old hymn about friendship all the way back down to the cabin. Near the end, she began faintly echoing the chorus with him. After lunch, he realized her help was making the food disappear a little faster. Time to visit the village, but not just for food.
Thomas coudn’t gauge what a slow season would look like, but the village was neither bustling nor sleepy. Most businesses offered multiple services. Even the old Lutheran chapel was actually more of a community center. There was no resident pastor, though at times one would visit there on his vacation and perform a few simple services. During most of the year, a deacon would visit monthly for standard social services. There was only a part time secretary living in what would have been the rectory attached to the chapel.
Sometime in the past, when people cleaned their holiday rental spaces at the end of the season, finding random pieces of clothing and the like, they duly turned them in to the mayor. The stuff collected in a closet of the chapel because there was no other place for a lost and found. Nobody ever came looking for anything. When the current secretary was hired, being a hard core neatnik, she organized the closet, and quickly began using it for charitable purposes. Tom heard about this and was hoping to bolster Lana’s wardrobe beyond a single outfit.
But he was just a bit nervous, wondering if he would encounter any resistance to getting Lana help. If she had worn out her welcome in the village, it might be a little difficult. He was hoping his own good relations would overshadow things. As it was, the secretary either hadn’t encountered Lana, or pretended so, and took her in charge, rifling the closet for usable clothing which might fit her. At least Lana was being more verbal than she might have in the past, so things proceeded in Finnish while he waited. Eventually Lana came out with a couple of bags filled with clothing. On her feet were like-new trainers and frilly socks which matched. He decided to let her carry her clothes for now as he thanked the secretary. At the door, he thought to ask about underwear, and was told the little variety shop had some.
Making sure Lana could tell him what sizes she wore, that was the next stop. He picked up a few other items, as well, including a cheap day pack and some reusable shopping bags. Then they crossed over into the grocery section. By the time they left, his pack was loaded and both of them were carrying the garishly colorful shopping bags. If anyone was uncomfortable with Lana’s presence, he never detected it.
As they lugged this baggage back up the road toward the cabin, Thomas turned and asked, “Do you think you’ll be staying with me a while?”
Apparently she hadn’t thought along these lines at all. Finally, she said, “Don’t send me away.”
He stopped and turned to face her. She halted with him. “In the hospital, you were just an object among many which justified keeping the place open. You weren’t a person. When you left, you didn’t know how to reclaim what the hospital had taken from you. Out here in the world, you have to stop acting like an object. You have to be a person, or you’ll always have trouble and pain. The hardest thing is not living with abuse, as you already know. Once you figure out who you are, the hardest part is dealing with other people who don’t abuse you, but don’t care, either. You have to give them a chance to care, perhaps taking as much as they are willing to offer.”
It was not staring, but she gazed intently at him. He continued, “I’m not your custodian. I’m your friend. I don’t have to take care of you, but I want to. Maybe we can be more than friends someday, but right now that’s a lot for you. As long as you don’t do anything to hurt me, make me feel sad, I want you to be with me. But more than that, I want you to find your self.”
As they resumed walking, he turned his head and added, “I hope you believe I am the one person you can trust right now, because I don’t intend to hurt you, or let anyone else hurt you.”
When they got back to the cabin, he helped her organize her things while pointedly refusing to make too many decisions for her. He took some of the shopping bags for temporary storage of his stuff so she could have her own space on her side of the bed.
Finns were not particularly demonstrative, so he wasn’t sure if it was something she saw, or where it came from. After going down to start dinner preparations, there was a moment she came up beside him. He didn’t look directly at her, and after waiting a bit, she said his name. “Thomas.”
He stopped what he was doing and turned to face her. In his mind, it was a big moment simply that she would call his name to initiate contact on her own. How big the moment, he would not have guessed.
Looking down into her upturned face, he saw clearly the liquid pooling on her lower eyelids. She reached out her hands, not quite touching his shoulders. “Hug me,” she said simply. He complied, taking her in his arms gently, letting her decide how it should happen. It was clumsy, slightly stiff, but it was a start. They held each other for a while. The rest of the evening passed as if in another world.
In the middle of the night, he awoke on his back. Lana lay on her side in relaxed slumber facing him, her arm across his midriff. What woke him was what he felt sure was a familiar, audible voice. It was attached to a vivid memory of his Osage friend, walking away into a glowing cloud, turning just enough to speak a couple of words. “Farewell, Thomas. You are home now!”
After awhile, he faded back off to sleep, never to see that face again in his dreams.
At my static website I have posted two new articles regarding cultural mythology. The first, Western Cultural Mythology seeks to untangle how we got here in regards to some of our sexual mythology. The frame of reference continues my basic contention Western Christianity is a corruption from the New Testament model. The second, A Biblical Approach to Game is longer and more specific regarding how Christians should re-examine feminism and how it perverts our approach to marriage and human sexual relations. Then I offer some basic guidelines on working past those myths and building from a better foundation.
Tom showed Lana how to place clothing into the tiny washing machine, which made very little noise doing its work.
Then, using his own brush, he carefully detangled her hair. It was almost white, and bore a slight natural wave. He mentally added to the list of things to buy some ingredients to make a natural hair treatment. He told her look in the mirror, turning a bit to see. “When it dries, it should be nice and full.”
Then he explained a little about interacting with people. “If more people paid more attention to their own voices and visions, the world would be a much better place. But they don’t. You have not been able to ignore them. Instead, the voices and visions have caused you to ignore the people around you.”
She seemed more relaxed than before. He sat her down at the table again, and told her to keep her knees together, then showed her how to cross her legs at the ankle and pull them back to one side. “It’s not always the most comfortable, but if you aren’t wearing pants, you really need to sit that way — always.”
He pulled out a small radio. “Do you know how to sing?” She shook her head no. “It sometimes helps to make the voices quiet, and the visions not so blinding.” He turned on the radio, then dialed it around a bit until he found something he recognized, old pop music. He began singing in his best voice to the songs, and encouraged her to try making some of the same sounds.
It was almost a whisper at first, but soon enough a very breathy mezzo soprano came leaking out of her mouth. For now, the mouth shaping would have to wait. Just getting her to hear and copy music was much more important. He wanted her to become conscious of the sound of her own voice.
“I’m going to take my shower now. I hope you’ll keep trying to sing while I’m doing that. I’ll try to keep up, as well.”
The bathroom was just a walled enclosure, open at the top. He could hear her stopping now and then, but she didn’t actually quit. He sang snatches of songs he recognized and kept hearing her less and less breathy voice bouncing off the ceiling. He came out wearing athletic shorts and another t-shirt. She was still trying, but it sounded like her voice was tiring. He turned off the radio and she fell silent. But she was looking at him, with a fairly normal, if blank expression.
He then taught her about eye contact. She seemed to absorb everything quickly. He explained how it was fine to be aloof when there was no need to interact with people. She would simply have to learn by example, watching how to interact with others. “It’s not exactly the same for women and men,” he warned her. Then he explained how she would have to learn to strike a balance, neither staring nor avoiding eye contact with someone to whom she was talking. She should look at them, then look away at something else briefly. He called her attention to how he had been doing that.
In the process, he realized how utterly critical it was he had taken that theater class in high school. What everyone took for granted as natural behavior, down to the smallest detail, was studied and mimicked with a purpose in acting, to make the behavior both exaggerated and still seem as natural as possible. He played a game with his hands, directing her to look at him, then wherever he pointed, as he was talking.
At one point, she yawned. It was both a very good sign, and a signal to stop the lesson.
“Are you ready to lay down and sleep now?”
She nodded. He led her up the stairs. “I usually sleep on this side,” pointing to his left. “Will that be a problem for you?” She shook her head.
Pulling back the cover, he invited her to lay down. She simply crouched a bit, threw one leg on the bed and stabbed it under the cover, lowering herself and sliding sideways. He looked away and decided not to comment on the exposure. Covering her up, he let her find her own place. “I’ll get in bed in a little while, but I have something to do first.”
He stepped quietly down the stairs and removed her clothes from the laundry machine. Folding them neatly, he lay them across the foot-board of the bed at her feet. Stock still, frozen like a statue on her back, she seemed from below already asleep.
He sat down at the table and prayed, meditating over the voices in his own head. He pulled his Bible down from the shelf above the table and read for a bit. Then he closed his eyes and mediated some more.
Finally, he turned off the single light mounted in the apex of the ceiling. All that was left was the faint glow from the appliances, with their continuity lights showing they were connected to power. He silently climbed the steps and lay down carefully in the bed. She never moved, and he turned on his side, facing away from her.
When the first rays of sun shining through the window woke him, making a bright pattern high on the wall, he waited before moving. He realized she was in a fetal position against his back, with the fingers of one hand wrapped in the fabric of his t-shirt.
When he stirred, she went rigid, rolling over on her back, eyes wide open staring straight up. He sat up and turned toward her just a bit. Reaching out his hand, he held it palm up several inches above her torso. “It’s okay to touch some people, people who care about you. Touching is entirely normal, but most humans don’t do it very well. So we have lots of crazy rules, but underneath them all, it’s okay to make friends and touch some people in places that aren’t private.”
She glanced at him, then pulled a hand out from under the cover and placed her fingers in his palm. “Friend.” The word was almost alien to her. It was then he noticed her hair was more beautiful than he first expected. Letting go of her, he turned and got out of bed. Without looking at her, he pulled out some clothes and went to get dressed in the bathroom.
After he came out, he sat on a chair and began putting on socks and shoes. She took the cue to grab her clean clothes and changed in the bathroom. When she came out, he was making coffee and had breakfast started. She held up his green t-shirt with a question in her eyes. “Just toss it on the foot of the bed. I normally wear the same bed clothing two or three times before washing them.” She could see his shorts there already, so walked past the little stove and tossed the shirt. Apparently throwing objects in this fashion was a new skill for her, though it landed well enough.
She stood by him in front of the hot plate where meat was sizzling in a skillet. He had her repeat the name of everything he could think of, then explained cooking time and temperature for the things he was preparing. A random passing thought about biscuits made him remember something.
“Just now, a voice in my head reminded me how much I missed having American style biscuits.”
She looked at him with her head to one side. “Your lips didn’t move.”
“It’s not necessary. In fact, it bothers people when you do that. I don’t have to let all the voices use my lips, just the ones I use for communicating to others, or for singing, for when I’m alone and talking to myself or to God.”
She stared at him for awhile, then remembered to look away. Apparently she was testing the idea of not letting the voices have her lips. When she looked back, he finally cracked a smile. “Did that hurt?”
One corner of her mouth twitched, she paused, then, “No.”
Over breakfast he explained smiling. “Most people smile even when they aren’t trying to communicate. It’s a natural response of the body to something which makes you happy, or seems funny, humorous. On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of fake smiles, when people weren’t feeling happy, and were trying to disengage from you, or trying to get you to do something.”
She was still practicing eye contact, but obviously heard him. “It happens when I go to new places. After a few days, they quit smiling and starting yelling or saying ugly words.”
He started, “They don’t understand you…”
“You do,” she shot back.
“I’m working at it, Lana. My problems weren’t as big as yours, but I had problems. Different problems.”
“Your voices lied to you.” She took a bite of food.
She was right. “Do none of yours lie?”
She chewed for a few seconds, then swallowed. “Sometimes. But they argue.”
“That’s normal, good even. The voices can each live in their own little apartment, but you have to find one you can trust to play referee, to be your real voice. It will be the one which decides what and how much is released outside to the world. Then you can find out which of the others to trust, and the referee lets them speak internally. Somewhere among the voices, one of them has to be you, Lana.”
She froze for a moment, staring at the far edge of the table, then took another bite.
He continued, “Most people pay no attention to all of this. They never hear more than one or two voices. The rest are buried deep inside the dark space of the mind, and people often have no idea what goes on in there. It makes the world a crazy place, but we have to keep trying to help them.”
She smiled, and a spurt of breath was just barely audible as her stomach visibly tightened just a fraction. “There,” he pointed out. “You almost laughed.”
“You said the world was crazy.” Then she half snorted again, before the smile could fade.
He blurted out, “You have such a beautiful face when you smile.” Then he realized blushing was something he would not be able to teach.
As he half expected, Lana followed him.
Slowly, she got involved in the work. He was surprised Lana could do much at all, but made no comment. At most, he simply gave directions when it appeared she didn’t quite understand what he wanted. Yet he never had to tell her anything twice. Her mind seemed to work well enough, just very differently. Mostly he allowed her to do whatever she wanted.
When he was ready to quit for the day, he noticed there was a small, yet significant difference, with a higher pile of wood. Something told him this was a very good sign. He was guessing she wasn’t useless, just had trouble functioning the way every one else did.
Back inside the cabin, he suggested she take her coat off and have a seat at the table. He pulled out one of the chairs. Almost as if programmed to obey, she hung the coat on the back of the chair and sat down, revealing a thin pale brown long-sleeved tunic tucked into the sweat pants. She stared at the wall, sitting with her hands in her lap. He had mapped out the events in hopes it might be this easy.
Pulling out dishes and food, he began preparing a simple meal. She turned in her chair to watch. He asked, “Ever do any cooking?”
As usual, her verbal response was delayed by some internal activity. Eventually she answered, “Not in a house. Outside.”
He decided to take a risk. “How much time did you spend in hospitals?”
Again, the long pause. “Four countries, six hospitals, twenty six years.” It was almost like a mechanical summary of her case file.
From childhood at least, there would have been no exposure to normal human company, normal human routines. Mental hospitals were notorious for reducing everything down to the convenience of unmotivated employees. He doubted it was any different where she had been compared to what he had seen in the States. “How long have you been out on your own?”
This time, without the long pause. “Three years.”
She was fortunate to be alive, he thought. Then again, she was certainly intelligent enough. Another thought occurred to him. “How many languages do you know?”
Some delay. “English, Deutsch, Français…” Carefully naming each according to the what the language called itself, she ran down the list. Thomas didn’t recognize any but the first three. He counted a total of eight.
Having no way to test that, he let it hang in the silence. Her problem was not mental capacity, but a matter of internal traffic control. A few minutes more and he brought two plates of food to the table, some flatware, then brought two empty glasses. He filled each with some inexpensive German wine. He hoped alcohol triggered no problems, since she was probably not on any medication.
She ate quietly, with the same precision, but with odd inventions typical of neglect. Eventually she modified some of her movements to copy his. Finally, she rested her hands in her lap. Suddenly, she looked up at him. Her gaze was softer than before, but her focus was directly on his eyes. “I hear voices, see things.”
“So do I,” he offered. “Most people do, but they pay no attention. People like you and I can’t ignore them.”
For once, she showed a whisker of emotion, as her head tilted ever so slightly to one side.
He continued, “But I know where they belong. I give them a place to work and they don’t get in the way.”
He barely finished speaking when she shot back, “Teach me that.” The intensity of her stare could have blistered paint.
“I’ll try.” As he took the dishes and put them in the sink, he tried to explain it was not simply learning like she might learning cutting and dragging trees, or cooking, or any of the other things he wanted to teach her. She could learn handling the voices and visions only by absorption. He could explain parts of it, but only to help her find her own way of handling things.
She stood and moved next to him, began drying the dishes. He noticed for the first time the top of her head reached about to his chin. She looked even more frail up close than before, without her coat to hide under. She needed everything, and he was hoping she could stay around long enough to gain weight, gain stability, and learn some level of mastery over the distractions inside her own head. His own distractions were probably nothing compared to hers, but he felt sure the same power was there somewhere, waiting to be identified and called upon.
When the dishes were put away, he turned to face her. “Do you have any other clothes put away some where?”
She looked at the floor, her lips moving silently for a moment. “No.”
He pointed to the laundry machine. “I want to wash your clothes…”
Before he could finish his sentence, she began undressing right there. He restrained her with both hands. “Wait.”
She stared at him with her hands still wrapped in her shirt tail. “You’ve been allowed to develop some bad habits. This is part of why people don’t like you. Let me explain something missing from your awareness.”
She relaxed her grip on the tunic.
Without touching her, he leaned down. With fingers extended on his hands, he drew an invisible line across her legs about mid-thigh, moving his hands out from the center. “Starting about here,” he then turned his hands vertical, and drew long lines up, “to your shoulders, and across to the center. Imagine there is a box, front and back. Inside this box is private space, your private space. No one can see it or touch it unless you really want them to.”
He stepped back. “You should not let me see what’s inside that box right now. There has to be a very good reason to change that rule. It’s your space; it belongs to you alone. Don’t share it too easily. Keep it covered. That’s how the rest of the world does things. I’ll give you something to wear while your clothes are being washed.”
He walked over to the loft and went up the stairs. From the shelf he pulled out his largest t-shirt. It as solid pale green, the fabric rather thick. Stepping back down, he paused near the door of the little bathroom. “Step in here and close the door. Take off your clothes. While you are in there, take a shower if you know how.” He waited until she nodded her head in the affirmative. “Dry off with one of the towels, and put this on, then bring your clothes out to me.”
She stood stock still for a few moments, staring at him. She breathed deeply, then let it slowly. Walking gingerly toward him, she paused, took the t-shirt and went inside the bathroom. The door closed gently behind her.
Had he seen a hint of tears forming on her lower eyelids?
It took two weeks for the soreness to become taught muscles.
Thomas was not a small man, but was glad none of the trees lying on the ground were huge. Indeed, most of it was broken limbs, windfall and such. It was the usual mixture of pines, elm, birch, linden, and so forth. The pines were used for pulp, and he stacked them separately from the rest. He was allowed to keep a few pieces of hardwood for his own stove.
The little cabin was sparse, a summer vacation hut typically rented, but there had been no visitors this year. It was more than sufficient for his needs. There was a small table with two chairs in the near corner. A hotplate on top of the counter, and a small refrigerator under, and a small sink set in the counter next to them. Open shelves under the counter held a few dishes. At the far end of the counter was an odd little washing machine which also dried the clothes, and used no soap or other additives. Above it was a fold out drying rack nonetheless. This was all in the area on the right of the door.
To the left was a small bathroom built into the corner, just a shower and stool with a few shelves on one wall above a towel rack. His hosts had provided a stack of ragged old towels. Because the cabin was on a slope, the bed sat on a sort of loft about a meter higher, at the back of the cabin. There was a short stairway just beyond the bathroom, but everything else was wide open. On either side of the bed was an open hanging rack and shelves built into the wall.
The wood burning stove was more or less in the center, just below the bed loft. Because it was summer now, he seldom had a need to light it, but kept himself a pile of wood against one side of the cabin just in case. If he stayed into winter, that pile would have to be much larger.
Between the ax, several sizes of old saws and a set of splitting tools, he could whittle down and drag out most of the logs and limbs he encountered. He estimated it would take all the way up through autumn to make much of a dent in the first section of forest. That was the immediate goal. Staying longer depended on too many variables.
But Thomas was more curious in the much real task which his non-conscious mind knew was here. So far, the semi-nightmares ending with the Osage wise man’s face always came with a change in direction, and an important job with one or more people. People were the only thing that mattered to Thomas. Or rather, bring truth into their lives in some special way always more obvious as situations moved and morphed around him.
Thus, lunch time found him sitting on the porch, leaned back against the post. His left leg dangled off with his foot on the ground, his right stretched across the porch deck. Today was a special meal for lunch. He had run across a gypsy wagon in town a few days before, offering, off all things, Mexican food. So far as Tom could tell, it looked and smelled about the same as the stuff from the taco stands back home, only better quality. He had purchased a half-dozen burritos and froze them. Two had been thawing in the sun all morning, and were just about warm.
But no hurry. First he poured a cup of coffee from the carafe. The cabin sat facing the old road used by the tractors which came and dragged away the logs Tom hauled out of the forest. It didn’t matter who came to get it, since there was only one old sawmill in the area. It was actually a large saw in a small shed, with a sliding rack. No power equipment could enter the forest, so he pulled the wood out into the open. His host had just finished tying up the load from this morning, and walked over to chat with Tom a minute.
He pointed out on the road coming up from the village. A lone figure approached, rather uncertainly. The first thing Tom noticed was the long, almost white hair tied back and flapping in the breeze. It could have been female, but walked with an androgynous gait.
The old man announced, “Her again. She is crazy, you know. If you feed her, she will never leave. She hangs on like an octopus, acting strange and frightening the children. You would do well to make her leave.” With that, he turned and mounted the tractor and drove off down the hill past the figure. Neither the man nor the girl acknowledged each other’s presence. It was clearly a somewhat small, skinny female. As she drew closer, she stopped, frozen for a few moments. Her eyes stared at the roof of the cabin. Her mouth moved as if talking very quietly to someone next to her.
She was not old — obviously younger than Tom. The skin of her face was pale white and still smooth despite exposure from being homeless. The hair was tangled and slightly matted, and a little dirty. Her clothing was also a bit dirty, though carefully composed. Thomas thought the coat was too heavy, but remembered he had been working six days per week for two weeks already, and his metabolism was very high. So if the old man wore long sleeves, a homeless woman might wear a coat. It had once been a bright orange and red, contrasting with her dark blue sweat pants. Her feet sported battered old hiking shoes with mismatched laces and socks.
She walked up and stopped a couple meters from him. Tom thought to himself she might even be pretty if she didn’t look so anorexic. She paused there for a long moment, then fixed her eyes directly on him. Her gaze was intense, yet utterly empty, without the slightest emotion.
So this is why he was here.
With precise UK English uncommon for the area, she spoke in rather flat tones. “Could I have some food?” At least the emphasis and tone were correct, but there was no apparent emotion in any part of her facial movements. Without taking his eyes from her face, he reached back with his free hand and picked up one of the foil wrapped burritos. Extending his right arm over the left hand which gripped the coffee mug, he held it out to her with a mild, but unsmiling look on his face. There was no sense confusing her with unnecessary inputs.
Instead of simply reaching for it, she first moved and took a seat opposite him on the porch, just a short distance from the foot resting on the deck. She sat rather bolt upright without leaning or curving her back. Once seated with legs crossed, then she reached out and took the offered food. He watched her, but not intently.
She unwrapped the foil covering, holding the burrito in her left while managing to fold the foil neatly with her right. She placed it carefully halfway between them on the deck of the porch. Straightening back up, she held the burrito horizontally and precisely in the fingertips of both hands, a foot or so from her face. She paused, staring at it, then made a few of the small mouth movements, as if whispering to it. She closed her eyes tight for a few seconds, then suddenly bit into the center of it, not quite deep enough to sever it in two. Tom unwrapped the other burrito partway and ate from one end, while casually watching her.
She chewed with her eyes closed, making no other movements at all. After swallowing a couple of times, she sat again, motionless. Then she opened her eyes and bit again, this time breaking it in two, each hand spinning it around like a baton. She closed her eyes again while chewing, now holding the two parts vertically in each fist.
It was a fluid motion which surprised him, but he didn’t flinch. Without a word, she passed the portion in the right hand to the left, and reached out in an impossible stretch over her folded legs, taking his coffee mug from his fingers. He didn’t react at all, simply watched as she took three sips quickly. Then she reached back and returned it where she got it. He simply gripped it again when it came back.
Then she returned one half of the burrito to her right hand again. Another pause with eyes closed, then she nipped a small bite off each piece. He noticed her teeth were very well kept, unlike everything else he could see about her. This pattern of behavior continued, until after a few more sips from his cup, which he kept at least half full, her burrito was gone. He finished at about the same time, folded the wrapper like hers and laid it on top.
Looking up, he said with his own rather flat tones, “I’m Thomas. What should I call you?”
Before she answered, a well worn toothbrush came from somewhere and she scrubbed carefully every tooth from every angle possible. That explained the nice teeth, at least. She grabbed his mug again, took a larger mouthful. She held it while swishing it around. Swallowing, she took another sip, then placed the mug back in his hand. The toothbrush had disappeared again. She wiped her coat sleeve across her mouth, then announced in that same flat voice, “Lana.”
Pushing his back off the post, he rose, telling her, “I’m going back to my work, Lana.” Then he walked back uphill toward where his tools waited in the forest.
The pain in his back and shoulders was exquisite.
Having been awake again for just a few minutes, Thomas remembered the dour Finns didn’t snicker much about anything. One of those dour faces approached him with two cups of coffee and sat next to him on the couch.
Thomas did his blinking best to be civil. “Thank you, sir.” He grabbed the offered cup and sipped while he thought of something else he might say. The man beat him to it.
“I just wanted to thank you for volunteering to help our community last night.”
So far, so good. Thomas needed only smile and see what else was coming, since the man obviously had something on his mind.
“It’s a very lucky thing you aren’t involved in our silly politics.”
Okay, so it looks like maybe another job ahead?
“I was wondering if you were looking for more work. My brother could sure use some help with a rather difficult situation over in another village.” The man pointed in yet a new direction Thomas had not planned to go.
The man continued to explain how the conflict between national and local laws, and yet again with private rules for land use. There was a forest near this village which was loaded with deadfall from a bad wind storm. With all the tangle of laws and rules, no one was allowed to clean it out. They could sure use the wood, what with global economics making other forms of heat so very expensive. The man was pretty sure a foreigner with no connections could “volunteer” to at least move the dead trees and limbs out of the forest where someone else was then permitted to haul it away and cut it up.
Of course, no power tools were permitted in this forest.
Thomas became freshly aware of the monumental stiffness. He also remembered those summers in his youth when he helped clear some of that hunting lease where he stayed until his forced departure.
While the old man drove him in a battered little station wagon to the next village, Thomas decided this was what had called up the image of his old Osage friend. The Indian man, good as his word, had arrived that Monday at Tom’s trailer and sat on the old log laying out front. He never knocked or said anything, just sat peacefully and at ease, waiting for Tom to come out.
Had not the old man’s Cadillac not made noise on the gravel drive, Thomas would not have known he was there. Glancing out the window, his anticipation buried all the other thoughts he might have had. He hurried out the join the man in the cold wintry air.
The ancient man ignored his offer of coffee or other refreshments. When Thomas fell silent, the old Indian waited a few minutes longer. “Expect everything; expect nothing.”
Tom decided this was the kind of thing where it was best to simply wait and absorb whatever was coming, precisely as the man had said. “Let nothing surprise you, because anything is possible. You have already met Death. He is your friend, now. Nothing else can happen you haven’t already faced.”
And so it went. It was not religion, per se, as Thomas had first expected, but nonetheless truth of a divine quality. It was all new, all ancient, and all familiar at the same time. Tom had no idea how long they sat there, as the Osage wise man mapped out a new reality for him.
Three days each week for the next two months they went through this same drill. Sometimes it seemed the Indian was repeating himself, but not quite. Rather, he was knitting things together into a fabric, weaving a tale of Tom’s future course of life. Not in specific detail, but in how Tom was to look at reality, and how he was to live it. In the hours between each visit, Tom could hardly chase down all the threads. Instead, the threads entangled his awareness, overwhelmed him.
While Thomas continued leading the church music program, something he could have done standing on his head because it was so instinctive, he found himself coming more and more to life. The music had its own meaning, speaking to Tom with a message not always precisely the same as the words.
It ended all too soon.
For Tom the truck company manager, politics had all been regulation and taxes. All the rest he ignored. Suddenly, it would be ignored no longer. Another major terrorist incident struck somewhere in the country, and all Hell broke loose. There were troops everywhere, even in his little hamlet in flyover country. Churches were compelled to offer certain types of information, and were warned to avoid certain other types. By this time Tom had been studying the Bible with a couple of new friends, and it all made sense in light of what the Osage man taught him. It also demanded Thomas not play along with this new program.
The old Indian told him a week ahead of time to pack one bag and prepare to flee. Tom was torn. He knew better than to doubt this warning, but was just getting his life in some semblance of useful order. So he met for two last hurried Bible studies with his friends, then told them he was ready for a new calling. They agreed this was their last meeting, as they were all sensing the same calling.
That night, as Tom sat staring at his rucksack, now ready to go, his cellphone rang. He didn’t recognize the number, but did recognize the voice. It was someone in the church, a retired county deputy. Thomas and his friends were facing arrest warrants. The church building would be seized that very night, and Tom needed to be gone when the police arrived.
It was all so new, so impossible, yet ancient as mankind itself. Almost unconsciously Tom set the cellphone down without closing it. He was already dressed, so it meant only shrugging into the backpack and getting started. He left the door unlocked; no sense in making it more expensive for his cousin than necessary. He hiked over the back roads and into the night.
As the memories faded, Tom found himself now standing before a very old gate, the car which brought him receding in the distance. That rucksack had long given way to a sea bag, and some of the contents had changed. Yet here, another dour old man strolled toward him with an equally old dog following stiffly off to one side.
Thomas smiled peacefully, expecting nothing, everything, anything.
Thomas clawed his way up out of sleep, and opened his eyes.
It was bad enough he didn’t quite remember where he was at the moment, but was shaking off the semi-nightmare of bad days long ago. A decade before, he sank deep into depression. He couldn’t remember how it started. Going straight from high school he worked the freight docks at night and took a few college classes during the day time. Before he reached thirty, he had that degree and was working in management. Trucking was still a growing industry where he lived.
Then, all of a sudden, it didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter much. His boss advised him to take that long neglected vacation. He came home and never went back. He felt like he was in some kind of prison. Sometime during that period his wife left him. The one corner of sanity left in his mind at the time could hardly blame her. She remarried and he never saw, nor heard from, her again. The house, cars, everything was gone.
His cousin loaned him an old travel trailer, sited on his hunting lease. Tom could never remember what kept him from committing suicide, but one cold night after his indifference to everything in general saw him nearly freezing without any heat, he was shaking too much even to feel bad. He walked up to the convenience store and decided to have some cocoa.
As he sat sipping and still shivering at the table, he realized it was Christmas. He found himself involuntarily humming first, then singing one of the cheesy old songs from a long forgotten movie. One of the customers heard him, and asked Tom something he didn’t catch. Blinking, he came back to himself enough to look up at the old woman.
“You have a really nice voice, sir. Do you sing in a band or choir somewhere?”
Thomas wasn’t sure if he actually shook his head deliberately or was still shivering, but she must have taken it as a “no.”
“My church is looking for a song leader. We sure could use a real singer, since so few of us can carry a tune any more.”
Tom smiled, an almost forgotten reflex. He did have some training, but it was mostly from his old school days. The music teacher had considered him talented and organized enough to help direct the school choir. Something inside him stirred at the memory. His hands twitched under the table as they recalled independently of his volition the pattern to beat the time to the music playing inside the store. Why not? “I suppose I could,” he said tentatively.
“We can’t pay a whole lot, but we would sure be glad to have someone who knows music up front for once,” she gushed. Juggling the thin plastic t-shirt bag with her purchase, she fished in her purse. Producing a card, she placed it on the table. Thomas recognized the address as just a half-mile away on the old highway. Then she handed him a twenty dollar bill.
He stared at it, lost, as she shuffled out the door without another word. Maybe he could use the money to refill the propane tank. He was singing again as he put the money in one of his pockets. The world was suddenly an alien place, but it wasn’t so bad, after all.
It’s not that he got religion, as his cousin teased him, but the people were just so darned nice. He showed up that next Sunday, clean shaven and early enough to find out about the situation. There was a piano, and a very old gentlemen was there practicing. He looked up. Thomas was dressed decently, but felt a little awkward trying to decide how to introduce himself. The old gentleman beat him to it.
“You must be Thomas!” His voice was broken, not into cracks, but a million soft shards which rasped. That would explain why the pianist wasn’t directing singing.
“Yes, sir.” After a pause, it started coming back to him. “What songs do we have for today?” He began flipping through one of the old hymnals. It was almost instinctive. Had it not been, Thomas could have done none of it. In a short time, the songs were arranged and Tom knew he could sing them well enough to do okay.
During worship, the singing was enthusiastic enough, but a little country church half filled with retirees was not at all like his school choir. He decided it didn’t matter. There was almost no pressure at all, just him singing the songs and them trying. But they gushed over how much better it was than before, and he felt really comfortable. That is, except with the half-dozen offers for lunch. He just wasn’t up to that, yet.
After they were all gone, the last parishioner coming out was by far the smallest, most dried up old man Thomas had ever seen. The dark, lined face and fine decorative beadwork the man wore made it obvious he was Native American. He stopped, and turned his wizened face up at Thomas.
“Go home and rest, Thomas. You have very, very far to travel. I will come to visit you tomorrow. Be ready.” The voice was both soft and commanding.
It never occurred to Thomas he was in any position to argue. Instead, it gave him something to anticipate, something which softened the emotional downslope after so much excitement. The old man waddled away and got into an old Cadillac which had pulled up in front of the door waiting for him.
Thomas still saw the image of the old Osage face when he struggled to sit up on the couch. Looking around, he dimly remembered this was the anteroom of a coffee house. It seemed midday, and how many customers might have come and gone and seen him there was but a slight worry.
He only ever saw the face of the Indian wise man in his dreams when it was time to change course.