The Saint in Jail

Kenilworth’s resident Saint, now a prisoner in Kenilworth’s jail, was, and always has been, guilty.

She may have not been guilty of the crime for which she was held, the murder of the Lisping Barista and the dismemberment and attempted disposal of her body; but, she was guilty, nonetheless. Guilty for what she had done and left undone. Slow to learn and prone to forget. Oblivious to harm and unconscious of hate.

“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee…” she cried into the linoleum as she stretched prostrate on the dirty floor.

There was, of course, humankind’s original sin she inherited from her forebears, Adam and Eve, often spoken of by theologians, of which we have no need to elucidate here. Guilt was baked in her bones, branded on her skin, woven into her DNA.

“… I detest myself…”

Then there were the innumerable small, secret sins: the white lies, the black thoughts, the specious excuses, the embezzlement of paper clips, taking an extra minute on her breaks, the passing of silent farts. She coveted what she saw in ads. She told her mother she was too busy to talk. She liked to look in windows and see how people lived, disposed her gum in a neighbor’s garbage can, voted for someone who flattered her, and crossed against the light. There were the many sins of gluttony: cranking the heat before putting on a sweater, eating food she did not need, and giving the toilet an extra flush. Worse, was when she masturbated to the image of a movie star, and a married one at that. He even came to her dreams, and then she came. She was so practiced in sin, she committed them in her sleep.

“… in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good…”

More numerous were the sins of omission: the truths she never told, the empty stomachs she never fed, the empty hands she never filled. There were dogs who just wanted a pat and cats who wanted to be left alone. She walked by people and never said hi and threw out letters from charities without reading them. She only fed the Leatherman when he came to Kenilworth and a single meal, at that. She might have been able to buy strangers more than one cup of coffee a day. She bought the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat a single, daily bottle of vodka, when he might have needed two. She threw out that empty can of tomato paste, instead of washing it and putting it to recycle.

“… I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all…

But, the most exasperating were the corporate sins. The sins of her race and the iniquities of her country: despoiling the earth, enslaving Africans, robbing the Indians blind, and calling them Indians when they were not from India. There was colonial exploitation, aid to dictators, sanctions burdening innocents, tariffs disrupting trade. She profited from injustice. There was a racist immigration policy and unjust housing codes. There was a vast gulag of prisons. And there were wars, wars, and more wars. Endless wars with no good objective. Brutal wars that destroyed everything. Body counts, war crimes, collateral damage. The nightmare of Nagasaki and the horror of Abu Ghraib. She was simultaneously contrary and complicit; her involvement documented in the Constitution and renewed every election day.

“… I firmly intend…”

She couldn’t even feel guilty about her sins without taking pride in the detailed, systematic, and exhaustive guilt she felt. She was arrogant about being meek, smug in her humility. Her generosity was self-serving, her kindness, pompous and her abasement, egotistical. There was no way to make right what was wrong, no way to move forward, no way to settle the matter.

And then she felt guilty for not trusting the mercy of God.

“… to do penance…”

But, there was no way out of this. She would go on committing these sins: if not the small, secret ones, then definitely the sins of omission and the corporate ones. She didn’t know how to avoid the sins of pride; they would scab over any penance she could try to do.

“… and amend my life…”

On the second syllable of the word amend, she banged her head on the floor. She repeated, “… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life… and a (bang) my life…”

The Ponytailed Cop rushed to her cell, fumbling with his keys. He pulled her up to sit and wrapped his arms around her. Her head bled on his shoulder.

His care was superfluous. She was undeserving. Even the size of the cell was bigger than needed. It should’ve been the size of a coffin. They needn’t have lit it. Those bits of coal, gallons of hydroelectric power, or uranium atoms were wasted on her. The power grid should have kept its electrons. She did not deserve a lung full of oxygen.

“Please don’t hurt yourself,” said the Ponytailed Cop. “Look, I don’t think you did this. You’re incapable of killing someone. I’m going to find out who really did it. Please talk to me. Tell me what you found when you discovered the body.”

Why did he not know she had already murdered thousands? Even at her conception, her one triumphant spermatozoon succeeded as the expense, and even the extinction, of all the others. They had as much right to live as she.

“What time was it when you got there?”

She fed herself on the flesh of others. A pig, a chicken, a shrimp, even a carrot or a beet, or a grain of wheat had as much right to live as she. She insensibly stepped on ants, slaughtered microbes with every breath, and committed genocide on bacteria just to combat an infection. They had as much right to live as she.

“What did you see when you got there?”

Many people died in her place. She could’ve easily been where they were or done what they did. Soldiers were slaughtered for her safety. Workers killed, so she could have buildings to inhabit, roads to travel, and bridges to cross. Planes fell from the sky, missed her, and hit someone else. Cars crashed a minute after she passed an intersection. Dozens perished to show physicians how to cure diseases that they could cure for her. Simply to exist meant to survive in place of others. The Saint had survivor’s guilt the moment she was born. She stood accused.

He led her out of the cell and opened his desk drawer to get a bandage. His gun was resting in the drawer. She saw it. She was within reach of it. She pictured herself grabbing it, putting the muzzle to her head, and pulling the trigger. It would all be over then. The guilt would be propitiated. But a new guilt would arise. The shame of suicide. The disavowal of grace. Just the thought of suicide was another sin.

He knew what she was thinking and shut the drawer. “Don’t do that. I need you to solve this crime. Please, tell me everything you saw.”

The Saint knew crime has no solution; but, sin does. She would take up the cross; her own, shitty cross. She would not lie, for that would add to her offenses; but, she would accept the punishment of another and free another anonymous person of his crime.

Throughout the interrogation, Kenilworth’s Saint never said a single word, although her lips moved constantly. The Ponytailed Cop was not a lip reader. Had he been, he would have known what she was saying.

“… your will be done.”

 

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The Saint gets arrested

It shouldn’t be too hard for you to believe, Dear Reader, that news travels fast in a small town. Therefore, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the manner and timing of the death of the Lisping Barista was discussed over coffee at the town’s Dunkin’ Donuts in extreme, lurid detail just a few hours after it occurred. However, it would interest you to learn that the town’s resident Saint had been arrested for the crime and was currently sitting in the town jail, the Ponytailed Cop’s only suspect. How did the finest, most loving, generous, and altogether most holy person for miles around get implicated in such a heinous crime?

The Saint had been up early that morning, bringing a chicken salad sandwich to the Leatherman, whom she learned had been transported out of Kenilworth to his cave at Gillette’s Castle. The Leatherman, she would have found, was no longer there. She left the sandwich anyway and returned to the parking lot the long way, so she could enjoy the view of the river from the Castle’s portico. There, at the foot of the stairs, she found the dismembered body of the Lisping Barista.

Had a pack of dogs, belonging to the Crazy Dog Lady, not been breakfasting on the body, the Saint would have done what anyone would have done: she would have run up the stairs to the Castle, which was just opening, to report the crime. However, the Saint decided it was best to first protect the body from further mauling of the dogs by dragging it back to the Leatherman’s cave and rolling a boulder in front of the entrance to keep them away. Even though she was a slender woman, with no great strength, and a saint, without the slightest bit of aggressiveness, she began to wrestle the body away from the dogs out of a tender deference for the dead.

This task, as simple, but grisly, as it sounds, was not easy; for the dogs were as intent on keeping the body as she was intent on taking it from them. By this time, they had gnawed through the joints and divided the Lisping Barista into six pieces, one for each dog. She began by pulling the arms away from the Labs, who regarded it as a game, seizing the arms with their teeth, growling, and dragging their feet as if they were playing tug-of-war. One by one, she dragged each Lab to the cave, where she twisted the arm away, and quickly rolled a boulder over it. She repeated this with one of the legs, which the Setter had behind a bush. The second leg was possessed by the St Bernard. Because the huge dog weighed more than the thin Saint, she saved that leg for last, having a plan to use the Leatherman’s sandwich to lure him away.

The Dachshund had been allotted the head and was chewing on the Lisping Barista’s face when the Saint found it. She was able to grab the head by the ears and get it away from the Dachshund who hung on to the nose for all he was worth until the cartilage gave way. Then the Dachshund began to complain and got all the others barking, all except the Beagle who had his mouth full of liver. All of this barking alerted the staff who were preparing to open the Castle and an early family of tourists, who had brought their kids out on the portico to see what was the fuss.

The mother of the tourist family held her hands over her kids’ eyes and stood spellbound as she watched the Saint carry the head into the woods and return to drag the body. The kids squirmed free, figuring that anything their mother didn’t want them to see, had to be pretty interesting. Her husband ran out into the parking lot where he remembered a cop’s car had been parked. Inside was none other than the Ponytailed Cop who was enjoying his morning donuts in a place where the taxpayers of Kenilworth would not expect to find him. The Cop tried to claim that he had no jurisdiction there and offered to radio the state police, but the husband kept on talking about murder and his kids and something about a severed head. At last, more out of curiosity than duty, the Ponytailed Cop took one last bite of his donut, emerged from his car, and went over to see what the man was talking about. There he caught Kenilworth’s Saint dragging a body into the woods, looking so guilty that he had no choice but to arrest her.

If you were there at Dunkin’ Donuts, Dear Reader, to overhear the good people of Kenilworth describe the arrest of their resident Saint, the other thing you would have been curious about was why no one came to her defense. She was roundly recognized as being a saint throughout the town. No one, by that point, had escaped her generosity. They were mostly in awe of her. Indeed, when the news first broke, no one could believe it; but then the Saint’s landlady came in and told us the rest of the story.

As soon as she found out the Saint had been arrested, the Landlady broke into her room to look for clues. She was half afraid she would find other dead bodies in the room. A proper old lady, she did not think it would be suitable to harbor a serial killer. The other half of her was afraid she would not find bodies and be deprived of a good story. As it turned out, she did not find any bodies, but she did find something so horrifying, so inexplicable, so perplexing, so radical, dangerous, and appalling that she still had a good story and went right to Dunkin’ Donuts to tell it.

Apparently, the Saint, who had gotten up very early that morning to bring the Leatherman his sandwich, planned on returning in time to clean up the crucifix on her dresser smeared by dog shit. You will remember that this was a peculiar religious practice of hers. She did not intend any disrespect by it. On the contrary, by smearing the crucifix with dog shit, she meant to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice that dying on the cross involved, recapturing the original meaning of the cross. You’ll also remember that she cleaned it up every morning, so as not to offend her landlady’s sensibilities. As it happened, she didn’t do that this morning. First, she was in a hurry to bring the Leatherman his sandwich; and then, she was helplessly in handcuffs in the back of the Ponytailed Cop’s car. So, the very thing the Saint most feared about her religious devotion came about: it was revealed to everyone and no one understood.

“There was always something strange about that girl,” one said.

“She should have had her head examined years ago, while the Therapist Emeritus was still around to do it,” said another.

“It’s never a good thing to take religion too seriously. You’re bound to lose touch with the real world,” we all agreed.

And, indeed, the Saint seemed to have lost her mind; for when she was questioned about her role in the crime, she refused to utter a word in her own defense. It was not enough for her to be a saint, she was determined to be a martyr.

The Leatherman dreams

The Leatherman was highly agitated by the disturbance in his routine, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him; for, just as his body was covered by leather pants, leather boots, leather shirt, leather gloves, leather hat, and a long, patched leather jacket, his face was obscured by stoicism and grime. He was not generally one to share his feelings, but you knew he had to have them; for, why else would he do what he’s done?

The deed I’m talking about is the single, billion-step, accomplishment of his life: the unending, invariable thirty-five-day circuit through small towns of Connecticut and Eastern New York, sleeping in caves and tombs and eating the handouts of humanitarians. No one knew why he did this, for he never spoke, but there could only be one reason: he did it for love.

They say there was a girl in his past, a girl he had seen in a shoe repair shop when he was young. She had soft round legs, a bright skirt, and a smile that lit up the mysteries of life. No one experiences the mysteries of life lit up, as by a blazing floodlight, without wanting to take a better look. No, you go and find that floodlight, even if it means trudging a billion steps, sleeping in caves and tombs, and eating nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You forfeit thirty-some years of baths. You develop a search pattern that does not let her escape and you become highly agitated when it’s disturbed.

That was the state of the Leatherman two days ago after the Ponytailed Cop intercepted him at the town line. The Cop was kind about it. He patiently explained that the taxpayers of Kenilworth were all up in arms about the homeless in their midst. He could enter the town the next time he came through; he was sure they will have settled down by then. But the Leatherman knew no English and the Ponytailed Cop spoke no French. He did bring donuts, though, and coffee, and offered to give him a ride. The Leatherman couldn’t say where he wanted to go, but the Cop knew his next stop: a cave on the grounds of Gillette’s Castle.

No one could know whether the Leatherman had ever been in a car before, but it didn’t seem like it. If he had, he had long since gotten used to a walking pace, so traveling forty miles an hour through winding Connecticut roads must have seemed frightfully fast to him. He sat in the back seat, ate the donuts before the Ponytailed Cop got underway, and lowered his head when it seemed he was about to die. That proved to be a mistake; for, by the time they arrived at the Castle parking lot, he was carsick and vomited all the donuts onto the Cop’s backseat.

By being at his cave a day early, the Leatherman’s routine was all out of whack. It’s not clear why that mattered, except Kenilworth’s Saint, with her sandwich, wouldn’t know where to find him. None of his other benefactors could meet him on their appointed times, either, unless he violated all precedence and stayed at the Castle cave for two nights, instead of his usual one. Had he been able to communicate, and had he been willing to admit, he really needed a rest anyway. Thirty-some years of ceaseless, bathless, shelterless wandering wears a body down in a way few people ever know.

No sooner had the Leatherman found his cave, but he fished a leather blanket out of his pack and spread it on the ground. Then he took off his long leather coat and used it to cover himself. A leather boot was a pillow, his leather hat, a night cap, and his leather pants and shirt made do as pajamas. He would forgo his customary campfire and take an uncharacteristic nap. The Leather man had only two answers to agitation: walking and sleep.

The Leatherman enjoyed sleep, for he often dreamed of the girl. She would appear in his dreams with the smile that floodlit mysteries. She would never speak, but he would reach for her and, so reaching, would wake himself up and lose the dream. Every time, he told himself, don’t reach this time, just continue to sleep and enjoy her company; but, the next time he dreamed, he would forget and reach again. He began to believe that it was she, not he, who hiked this thirty-five-day circuit of tombs and caves, and he, who was following her to all the places she went. That’s what bothered him so much about missing this night in Kenilworth. He thought was missing an important appointment with a dream.

He needn’t have worried, for, after a long slumber that finished the day and went well into the night, he had his dream of her coming into her cave. There were important differences this time. She was exhausted, as if she had been to the tomb in Kenilworth, found that he was not there, and ran through the woods all night to come here to meet him. She fell to the floor and slumped. He remembered not to reach for her. She began to weep. They were quiet, gentle tears at first, but then they swelled into sobs. These sobs seemed to well up, as water does behind a dam, until they broke through with a wild wail. It occurred to him that it was dark and, because she didn’t see him, and he didn’t reach for her, she didn’t think he was here. She was lamenting not being able to find him. He could identify with that. He reached out and touched her.

When he touched her arm, she did something unexpected. The girl startled and began to run away. Also, he didn’t wake up, for he had already been awake, or in that ambiguous state between asleep and awake. When she began to run, he seized her tightly. If she was real, he was not about to let her get away.

The Leatherman had been visualizing this reunion for many, many years. It was not the way he had imagined. He never thought she would react so violently to his touch. She must not have recognized him; he must have changed profoundly over these years. She looked strangely the same, almost as youthful as he remembered her, but that’s how he had imagined; for, he never thought of her as having aged. She was forever fixed as a symbol of the freshness of youth.

She screamed and began to kick him with her legs. This was most unexpected; but, one does not search for someone for thirty-some years, only to let her go when one finds her. She screamed again and struggled away from his grasp, but one does not spend thirty-some years walking and living in the open, without developing some strength, only to let it fail when one finds what one has been looking for.

He pulled her towards him and embraced her in his arms. She was cold and trembling. She squirmed and bit his wrist until he bled. He never felt the pain, for he was overjoyed at having found her. He whispered the first words he had said to anyone in thirty-some years.

“J’t’aime.”

His words came out hoarse, so he said them again and again, till he could say them clearly.

“J’t’aime… J’t’aime… J’t’aime, chérie…”

Then, he added some more, for effect.

“J’t’aime, chérie… J’t’aime tellement… Part pas… J’t’aime…”

It took a long time before she stopped kicking and went limp. At first, he was afraid he had killed her, but she was alive and wide awake. It was like she had lost all will of her own. He placed her on his blanket, lent her a boot for a pillow, gathered up his coat, spread it over them, and spooned her in embrace. He felt her heart slow down. They remained that way long past daylight; he, wide awake; and she, in whatever state that was.

At last, she rolled over and spoke in English, as one who has forgotten her French.

“Do you have anything coffee? I thure could uthe thome.”

 

 

 

The Crazy Dog Lady’s Dogs pick up a scent

It looked like an ordinary night when our Two Legs let us out to do our business. All the squirrels were aloft, the rabbits gone to ground, and the bird feeder out of seed. The trash can that had been tipped earlier that day had its cover fitted tightly and taken back in. The Stupid Cat watched us from her window, her tail twitching in futile agitation. There didn’t seem to be much business to do but catch up on the news at the fire hydrant, squat on the sidewalk, and go back in to spend the night with our Two Legs sleeping at the foot my bed, when the wind shifted to the North-by-Northeast and Beagle picked up a scent. 

Beagle was proud of her nose and we were tired of hearing about it; but, I have to admit that, whenever she says she smells something, if we take the time to follow her, there’s something to it. I’ll never forget the time she claimed there was a deer carcass decomposing three miles out. We thought she was crazy; but, when we followed her, sure enough, there it was in the bushes by the side of the road. We all had a feast and rolled in the delicious fragrance so much that it lingered a month thereafter. Yes, Beagle has a good nose, and she talks a lot, but it’s generally worth listening to what she has to say. 

Setter was off, following her, until he caught the scent as well, and took the lead. The stupid Labs, dumb as a box of rocks, flanked him on either side. I prefer to keep a quiet dignity, as befits my station. I ordered them to keep me informed about their general location and direction while I accompanied Dachshund. It’s not that I liked his company, but I felt it’s my responsibility to keep everyone in line. 

Dachshund was yapping about how, if he was the Alpha, he’d do things differently. He’d show a few teeth to Setter and the Labs for running on ahead, if it were up to him.  

“I agreed it is better to be feared rather than loved,” I said. “But I’m a St Bernard and am able to inspire both fear and affection. Should I ascertain a lack of obedience due to a deficiency in the latter, then they will get my teeth, I assure you.” I didn’t say how close I was to giving that hot dog a good chomp. All he does is complain.  

We caught up with Beagle, who was out of breath with all her baying. 

“Barefoot Two Legs…hasn’t had a bath in a week…scent of marijuana, espresso, and fear…bearing nine degrees…passed by, oh, maybe…twenty-four to twenty-six hours ago.”  

I licked her face in admiration. “Well done, Beagle. When we down her, you get the liver.” 

She licked her chops and nuzzled me back. If you want to lead dogs, you have to understand what motivates them. 

She knew as well as I that we were highly unlikely to down a Two Legs. They’re an extremely difficult game to kill, very cunning and dangerous. Some of us, having made pets of them, may hesitate to go for the throat; but, a dog can dream, can’t he? Even if she never got to taste the Two Legs’ liver, Beagle appreciated the pleasure of being out at night with one’s pack, pretending to be a wolf. 

We must have trotted five miles before catching up to the Two Legs. She lay very still at the foot of some stairs. Setter and the Labs surrounded her, lolling their tongues, and waving their tails as we approached. 

“Good dogs,” I said and looked over to make sure Dachshund saw them so obedient. They not only located the game, but they waited for their betters to arrive. That’s the kind of loyalty you summon when you’re a St Bernard. However, Dachshund didn’t seem to notice. He was complaining that his feet hurt. 

“She hasn’t moved since we got here!” said the Labs, who could barely speak properly, with their tongues in the way. “We nosed her and she’s cold! Can we keep her? Huh? Can we keep her? We followed her here!” 

Beagle licked her chops again. I only had to give the order and she’ll have a taste of that liver. The entire pack was arguing in favor of consuming the found game. Dachshund contended that, since we had come all that way, we deserved our dinner, even though it was not likely to be any good. 

I was in no hurry to give the word. Rewards should be accorded gradually, so they taste better. I commanded Beagle to sniff the perimeter while I examined the Two Legs. Except for a few ants, who don’t count, there were no other animals by the body, guarding it. There was not another Two Legs in sight, either, although a very large stone Two Leg den was nearby. I was concerned that a Two Legs might come by and claim the body, or worse, catch us all and put us in jail.  

I have never been able to understand the morals of a species that would incarcerate a dog for something as ordinary as a bite. I have been Alpha for years. I’ll admit that, from time to time, another dog has taken some food that had been reserved for me. I give them what they deserve, a good nip in the hindquarters. Therefore, I would never have a problem if a Two Legs did the same regarding some game they thought was theirs. I wouldn’t think of chaining up a dog, or worse, shutting him up in a cage, away from his pack. There is something terribly brutal about the Two Legs kingdom. We can only hope that someday we will succeed in taming them, so we can trust them to be around. 

It’s hard for me to say for sure because, except for the Two Legs that lives with us, they all look the same; but I thought I recognized her. She was a tan colored female with matted fur and some discolorations on her limbs. I always felt sorry for her as someone who had no one to give her a brushing and take her to the vet. Perhaps years of neglect had finally caught up to her and she died here for us to find. I began to feel sad, but then I reminded myself that she was just a Two Legs and one must not let oneself get too attached. It is perhaps too caninepomorphic of me to treat them as conscious creatures, possessing awareness of their mortality.

I inserted my nose far up her crotch, where the black box recording all the Two Legs’ activities is kept. The smell of fear was strong and there was a base note of marijuana and espresso, just as Beagle had said. She seemed to have been in heat and a male had mated with her recently. Her body had the distinctive odor of a wet Two Legs, far greater than what you might expect from the trace left behind on the trail, as if the male she had mated with was more aromatic than she. There was no blood, but her head was cocked at an unnatural angle, leading me to believe that the cause of death had not been disease, but a fall down the stairs. 

Beagle reported that the perimeter was clear of carnivores, although a murder of crows had assembled in the tree tops. Setter and the Labs didn’t even flinch when Beagle stated there were six squirrels and a couple rabbits nearby, indicating that they really expected me to give the go-head on the Two Legs. 

Honestly, I was highly conflicted about giving the command to consume the meat. Like any dog, I had often fantasized about sinking my teeth into the soft pink thigh of a Two Legs; but I was raised, since I was a pup, to be solicitous of a weak species utterly dependent on us. I am a St Bernard, after all, and was told, with my litter, all the stories of our fore-dogs, rescuing travelers in the Swiss Alps. I wondered, had any St Bernard ever consumed a traveler, rather than let her drink from brandy keg and keep her warm until help arrived? I didn’t think so, but this Two Legs was already dead, and I had left my brandy keg behind. Moreover, I had the welfare of the pack to think about. They were counting on me to lead with judicious wisdom, and I had promised Beagle the liver. 

It’s rough, rough, being the Alpha, let me tell you. Few things are black and white. If one is to lead, it’s necessary sometimes to do the hard thing, to sacrifice one’s own principles for the good of the pack. I was glad my mother, refined bitch that she was, was not there to see me now. Although she would have been proud I was an Alpha, she would not have approved of everything that entails. Scruples have no place in leadership; the only thing that matters to a pack is survival.

S. Harry Zade goes for a walk in the woods

I’d never seen such a beautiful day for a walk in the woods. A moderate breeze caused the trees to sway, as if they had something to dance to, and shake their leaves, as if rattling soft tambourines. What was the music that caused the trees to move so happily? It wasn’t the wind, for wind can uproot them and strip their clothes from their limbs. It wasn’t the birds, although the birds sang sweetly in their branches. It wasn’t even the sun, granted the sun possessed everything to which trees aspire. It was the mood of one fictional character, yours truly, who recently discovered he was in love, and believed that, thanks to her misfortune and distress, he actually had a chance with the Lisping Barista.

This pleasant mood was interrupted at intervals by the ominous rumbling of the Moodus Noises. It seemed like the rocks, deep underground and ignorant of the sun, the birds, the breeze, and one optimistic fictional character, were having a bad day. They grumbled as much as a thousand stomach aches ineffectually digesting a thousand shellfish dinners. They growled, as if to warn me away from the cave near Gillette’s Castle, where I predicted I would find the Lisping Barista.

I was bringing food and, she, having poured me many coffee concoctions, would recognize me as a familiar, if not friendly face. I would offer her a ride out of town, we’d catch up to her beloved Spellbinding Fish Fry, and she’d do to me as she tried to do to the Geeky Guy, furtively in the back of an empty bus. Then, she’d tell me all her stories, if only because I’d listen, and I’d have plenty material for a dozen sequels, keeping me alive, and my slave-driving author on the New York Times bestseller list for the rest of his life. That’s why I was having a good day. As for the clamorous Moodus rocks, I don’t know what their problem was.

Legend has it that the noises portend gloomy developments, the approach of danger, an enemy lurking, like a creepy south-central Connecticut soundtrack. I did my best to decode what they were warning. I didn’t want to be the first victim to fall in a slasher film. I didn’t know what my author had in mind for me, but I hoped that feeding him story ideas, wry observations, and developing compelling characters might have earned me the right to be the protagonist who gets the girl, and rides off in the sunset while the credits spin and the theme music from the Spellbinding Fish Fry affirms everything we’ve hoped about peace, love, and understanding.

There was one thing that the creepy Moody Noises might be foreshadowing. I was, after all, about to make my move, hit her up, propose a bid, run something up the flagpole, toss it against the wall and see what sticks. The Lisping Barista might not care about me, she might have long been skeezed out by my looks and too polite and too reliant on my tips to let it show. Tweedy professors may not be her type. By courting the Lisping Barista, I may be courting rejection, setting myself up for a fall.

The closer I got to the cave, the more my anxiety, and the Moodus Noises, seemed to tell me I was doing something stupid. By the time I found the entrance, my heart was pounding, my palms were sweating, and my knees threatened to buckle. At the same time, the Moodus Noises gathered up a crescendo that would have made Tchaikovsky proud. I almost turned away, rather than go through with my plan; but longing beckoned and I stepped into the cave.

My apprehension subsided somewhat when I saw that the cave was unoccupied. She had to be around here, somewhere. I couldn’t have been wrong about her coming here and finding a cave for shelter. But, then I thought, there’s more than one cave. The place abounds with caves. It’s Connecticut, there are rocks everywhere and, where three or more boulders are gathered and lean together, the space between them might be called a cave. She would have been unlikely to find this particular cave, the one that she and the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had occupied, while she was stumbling around in the middle of the night. She would have settled on any place where she could hide. Therefore, I set about scouring the woods for more caves, any cave where she might be.

I spent the rest of the day that way, until it began to get dark. The Moodus Noises had ceased and so had my dread of finding her. It was replaced by a dread of not finding her and having my newly hatched excitement perish from lack of feeding. It was then that I came across the most impressive pile of rocks anywhere on the grounds of Gillette’s Castle. I had overlooked them because they were especially remote and, I thought, unlikely for her to find in the dark. Nestled under them was as comfortable a cave as you’d imagine there could be.

I made up my mind this would be the last place I checked, and my anxiety returned. With the café closed and the Lisping Barista gone, and the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat also gone, I didn’t know how I could continue to find stories. I was a dead duck if I didn’t locate her, a failed narrator, and would soon be like all those characters in all those novels people start, never finish, and are kept in a desk drawer somewhere, so forgotten it seems they never existed.

At the entrance, I was heartened to find that a fire had been built and still had some embers; but there was nobody residing within. This could have been the very cave where she spent the night, sleeping late, and waiting for the safety of darkness to enable her to be on the move again. She must have just left, and I happened to be looking in the wrong direction as she skulked by. I loved her so much that I hoped she was still hungry, thirsty, barefoot, and in despair. I would have a chance with her, if only I could find her and convince her of my good, if not pure, intentions.

At this point, I figured the Lisping Barista would try to catch up with the Spellbinding Fish Fry. The only means she had of getting there was hitchhiking, so I hoofed it to my car as fast as I could. I would intercept her on the road and we’d rapturously ride off to the tour.

I had left my car in the parking lot at Gillette’s Castle. The quickest way there was up a long staircase from a garden below, up to a portico above. I don’t know what made me look up when I reached the stairs, for I was in a mad rush; but, I did look up. There, as big as life, was the Lisping Barista, standing on the portico of Gillette’s Castle, looking out over the Connecticut River. My heart jumped, as if trying to leap straight to her before my legs could carry me. But, she wasn’t alone. The Leatherman, of all people, was there with her. He had his repulsive arm around her waist and his revolting leather coat over her shoulders, looking, for all the world, as if they were on a date.

The Moodus Noises started up again, this time matching my mood. She was out of my league, all right. She was a skanky faithless whore, to have taken up with the vagrant Leatherman when she could have taken up with me.

Rabbi ! enchants his congregation

I walked the most likely road the Lisping Barista took out of town. It was a perfect route for someone on the run, with woods on both sides in which to hide whenever a car came along. She was, after all, fleeing from both the Drug Dealer and the Geeky Guy, as well as any number of private demons. I had not gone a mile until I realized this was the road to Gillette’s Castle. The caves the Lisping Barista visited with the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat were nearby.

I predicted the Lisping Barista would find a cave and hide for the night; so, I ended my walk, and went home to get some sleep. Yes, this fictional character needs to sleep. I’m not a superhero, after all. I may have exceptionally keen hearing, the ability to hack into laptops, and an active imagination; but, in every other respect, I’m just like you and would never choose to walk ten miles, when I can spend the night in my bed and drive it the next day.

In fact, I was so sure that I would find the Lisping Barista right where I thought she would be that, it being Shabbat, I decided I would visit Rabbi !’s synagogue and see what he had to say. I never got a chance to hear his sermons anymore, since the Epiphany Café was closed. While the rest of us migrated to Dunkin Donuts, the laughing Rabbi would never set foot in there, for the donuts were not kosher. Not that he would even eat a donut; but, being a rabbi, he could not give the appearance of eating one. Not that the baked goods at the Epiphany Café were kosher, either; but, it being a coffee shop, and not a donut shop, appearances weren’t so apparent.

I expected that seeing Rabbi ! in his natural setting, he would be different than observed at the Epiphany Café; and, indeed, that was the case. I was surprised to find that he seemed more himself at the café than at the synagogue. The difference was as dramatic as coming across a tiger in the wild, where it can pounce on you at any moment to deliver a sermon, versus seeing one caged in a zoo, performing only at feeding time. Furthermore, in the wild, one would hope to not come across a tiger; just as we often groaned when Rabbi ! entered the café. On the other hand, one may travel to a zoo especially to see and hear the tiger; as these good people arrived, all dressed up, for the rabbi.

After an hour of singing incomprehensible songs in a foreign language, marching around with a scroll, and chanting, also in a foreign language, the daily portion of the Torah; Rabbi ! was, at last, permitted to speak to us in English.

“What really happened that day in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?”

The congregation didn’t seem to know. At least, they didn’t answer. They seemed to think he was about to tell them.

“I think that Eve took a big bite out of that apple and found a worm! No, half a worm! That’s how she discovered Evil!”

Nobody asked him, but the man behind me said to someone in his row, “I wouldn’t have eaten that apple, I don’t even like apples; but, if it was a rugelach. Oy, I wouldn’t have been able to resist a rugelach.”

“Evil never looks like Evil on the surface,” continued the Rabbi. “It always looks good; but disgusting underneath. Evil ruins every good thing we come across! Life is a good thing! But then there’s death. Health is a good thing! But there’s sickness. Kindness and compassion are great things! But they are only needed as an antidote to cruelty and grief. Every one of us has bitten the figurative apple and found the figurative worm. Blah!”

If he were delivering this sermon at the café, he would have actually spit something out on his plate. Here, he had to make do with pantomime.

“Eve said to Adam, ‘Check this out! Do you believe this?’”

“Adam said, ‘God wouldn’t ruin an apple like that! Let me see!’ He plucked another apple from the tree and took a big bite, himself! Blah! He got another worm!”

It was about then that a thought struck me. The Lisping Barista will be hungry. I could find her cave, bring her food, and get the real story about why she left the Geeky Guy, if she would tell it to me. No apples, though. After this, I’m not getting any more apples.

“Together, Adam and Eve said the same thing at the same time. ‘How could a good and gracious God permit worms in his apples? Why would He plant Evil within the very Garden of Eden? It must be that God is not as good as he says He is.’”

The congregation may then have started to regret coming to synagogue this Shabbat. They may have wanted an easily digestible sermon. What they got was theodicy, the theological equivalent to a stomach ache.

“Now, to be fair to the worm, the worm was no more evil than Adam and Eve! He was doing the same thing they were. He was eating the apple! A worm’s got to eat, too! He just got there first!”

The congregation laughed, along with their laughing Rabbi. That’s what they liked about the Rabbi. He could bring them even the perspective of a worm.

“No matter where Evil was, in the worm eating the apple or in the human eating the worm, they still found Evil in the Garden! They looked around and saw imperfection everywhere! That’s when they sewed fig leaves together to cover all the ugly parts of their own bodies.”

That’s a good thing: people generally look better clothed than unclothed. A few look better with no clothes on, but they’re usually photoshopped. The Lisping Barista, on the other hand, is the exception. She looks fine, unclothed. I’ve seen it. I’d like to see it again.

“We have a word that describes what happened to Adam and Eve: they were disenchanted.”

The sermon had taken an unexpected turn.

“That evening, when it got cool, they heard God walking around. But everything was different, now. The Garden seemed different. It was no longer the Garden of Eden! It was just an ordinary place! They were no longer happy to see God! Their feelings about Him had gotten complicated! The spell that made everything special was broken.”

I was thinking about the Lisping Barista, alone in a cave, without even the thought of peace, love, and understanding to comfort her. In every one of her apples, a worm.

“That’s precisely the situation we’re in, my friends! We’re living in the Garden of Eden; but we don’t know it because, as a whole, we’re disenchanted with God. We’ve posted our own angel guarding the gates of Eden to prevent God from entering! This angel is called Rationality!”

We’re living in the Garden of Eden? Why hasn’t anyone told us?

“Being enchanted, or disenchanted, changes everything! Everything has meaning when we’re enchanted! Without it, the Garden of Eden is nothing but a natural resource to be extracted and used for our desires! It’s stripped of its sacred character. We’ve treated each other that way, too. When we’re disenchanted we fail to recognize the holy in each another. When we allow ourselves to be enchanted, we treat all of creation as something strange, wonderful, mysterious, and surprising!”

This is when I realized something about the Lisping Barista. She may be disenchanted, but she was still enchanting.

I didn’t stay till the end of the service.

S. Harry Zade explains madness

I can tell, dear Reader, that the one problem you’re going to have with my story is that you don’t understand why the Lisping Barista would run out of the house in the middle of the night, with no shoes, no jacket, and no three-hundred-thousand dollars she had risked so much to take. You might be more inclined to believe the neighbors’ account of the event: that the Lisping Barista had been hanging around the haunted house too long, came under the spell of the Witch, and became frightened by the headless ghosts of her parents. The simplest theory is often the best, except when it must resort to supernatural beings to explain things away.

I am in possession of a bit of backstory that may spread light on her behavior. Where did I get this backstory, you want to know? What you are really asking is, have I pulled it out of my ass? No, it didn’t come from that part of my anatomy. It’s elementary, my dear Reader. I got it from a process of deduction. It all came from the operations of my mind.

Let’s start with what we know. The Lisping Barista caught the Geeky Guy red handed in bed with his sister. That, by itself, is horrifying. Few people, who have discovered this about folks they were visiting, would want to stay. No, they’d be getting a hotel room as soon as possible. If both guests and hosts are like fish, reeking after three days; coming across incest is like tripping over a skunk. The stink is immediate.

Despite the Geeky Guy’s protestations, it really doesn’t matter whether he and his sister’s embedded embrace was as chaste as he claimed. We do not know whether the Geeky Guy was naked in that bed, but he was nude enough to need a sheet to cover himself up. That’s coming pretty close to the act of incest, whether they took it all the way, or not. If you get that close to something that unthinkable, your disgust detecting device needs an adjustment. We residents of Kenilworth have always known that there was something strange about those two.

As off putting as incest may be, it’s still no reason to run out of the house in the middle of the night, without shoes, jacket, and lacking three-hundred-thousand dollars that you took the time to count each day. The jacket is easy to explain. The Lisping Barista had no jacket when she entered the house, days before, having been shot by the Geeky Guy, so she had no jacket when she left. Leaving in the middle of the night is to be expected of someone on the run, as she was from the Drug Dealer. She would cherish the cover of darkness. As for the three-hundred-thousand dollars and the lack of shoes? Gathering them up before she left would have involved the Lisping Barista going back up the stairs and cornering herself in the attic. No, she had a clear route to the door, so she took it.

After she hit the street, I did my best to catch up. I had shoes, but was no match for her. The Geeky Guy broke off his chase after about three blocks because his feet hurt. It took about the same distance before I stopped, hands on my knees, blowing my guts out. After I caught my breath, I continued at a walking pace. I couldn’t see to follow her, but I had an idea where she would go. She would head out of town, by the most direct route possible.

When you encounter seemingly inexplicable behavior, like being in such a hurry to depart that an otherwise rational person leaves three-hundred-thousand dollars behind, it helps to start with the assumption that you can explain it and then try to imagine what would. Aside from ghosts, the first thing that came to my mind was that the Lisping Barista was a victim of childhood sexual abuse from her own brother. Such a thing, I’m told, is far more common than realized, it being always on the hush-hush. The thought is riveting and repugnant. It sheds a light on so much, yet raises so many questions.

Let’s imagine that the Lisping Barista was the youngest of many children, born to parents more interested in making babies than watching over them. Competition was fierce among the Lisping Barista’s siblings, a dog-eat-dog nursery in which she was the runt. All punishments were passed down, like clothing that no longer fits, from eldest to youngest. Any favors received by the youngest were bitterly resented by those ahead in line. Elder siblings were given parental responsibilities, with none of the authority, which they tried to make up for by force. The normal inhibitions that govern interactions between close relations, namely, that one does not have sex with them, was overcome by increments; for here is nothing so grand, or atrocious, that can’t be accomplished bit by bit. The urge to have sex was introduced to the elder siblings, perhaps in the natural way or the unnatural; but, at any rate, they had the desire, but no legitimate means to carry it out. Small transgressions were overlooked or rationalized away, paving the way for larger transgressions. Small children were silenced by prohibitions against tattling, or they simply lacked the words to describe what was going on. Innocence was exploited, and cooperation harnessed by small gifts. Then the younger sibling’s shame was put into play. She blamed herself for what happened, just so she could feel more in control. If she did speak up, she was disbelieved because the cure, which would involve the dissolution and public shame of the family, was perceived to be worse than the disease. Things went on like this for years, the little sister pushing her dresser in front of her door every night, until the big brother went on to others, or she moved out, went mad, or drew a knife.

Now let’s imagine that she grew older and left home. She put these memories into an inaccessible filing cabinet and hid the key. She developed a fondness for tattoos, cutting up her body, and grew dreadlocks incongruent on a blond, white woman; showing an eagerness to change whatever she was given. The Lisping Barista developed a certain, shall we say, enthusiasm for initiating sex, together with an indifference about following through. A victim of sexual abuse might be expected to either disavow all interest in sex, with men, at least; or to advertise her appetite for the activity, as a way of compensation; sort of like whistling in the dark. However, once she initiated sex, all the memories would return, and she’d freeze; sort of like someone whistling in the dark, until she realizes her whistling tells the lurkers where she is.

As the Weather-Beaten Man with a Cowboy Hat would say, her brother’s ghost accompanied her wherever she went. As the Reverend Abraham Pierson would say, she had a demon. As the Therapist Emeritus would say, she had flashbacks and all the indications of a post-traumatic stress disorder. As the rest of us would say, she was bat-shit crazy, but we loved her anyway.

If she was crazy, her craziness had a reason. It was too much for her to see the Geeky Guy in bed with his sister. It brought up all the memories of not having any choices. She was a kid when it happened to her, after all; but, she had choices now. She could run out of the house in the middle of the night, leaving behind three-hundred-thousand-dollars, and nowhere to go if she wanted to. It may not be the most sane thing she ever did, but she was taking a step, if not running headlong, towards sanity.