The Lisping Barista writes a gratitude list

So, here I am, the madwoman in the attic. I always knew it would come down to this. Wait, that’s not all. I got an angry drug dealer who used to be my boyfriend and all his henchmen after me; my current boyfriend shot me in the arm; and the Spellbinding Fish Fry are playing in Ohio by now. Can things get any worse?

The Fry have got a song where they say when things get bad, just go through all the things you’re grateful for. That’s what I’ll do. Just like in the song.

They start off with some things about the sun and the sky, but I can’t start there because I’m stuck in the attic and can’t see either one of them. But, let’s see. There must be something I’m grateful for.

Gratitude Number 1
I got drugs. Not just Vicodin or Percosets, I’ve got a guy bringing me oxies. That’s what he does for me. And he gives me all of them, even though he has a broken collar bone and all I got is a bullet graze on my arm. I’d rather have some weed, but that would entail going to my drug dealer ex-boyfriend, hazardous for him and impossible for me, so we have to settle for what he can get from his doctor, his dentist, the good people at the emergency room, and any other doctors he can find.

The oxies put me in a permanent state of suspension from my body, like the two of us have agreed to disagree and are calling it quits from each other for a while. My body’s always been better off without me, anyway. We get along better this way, if you know what I mean.

Gratitude Number 2
I got the nicest guy in the world, who thinks he’s in love with me. He isn’t the guy I’d pick because I don’t pick nice guys, but he’s a guy who brings me drugs and straightens out these old dresses I sleep on every morning like they’re a bed to be made. He brings me food when I need it and even a pot to piss and shit in. Then he empties the pot so I don’t have to go downstairs.

As nice as he is, I figured out he’s not one of the thirty-six people alive who’re keeping the world from being destroyed. He got disqualified when he shot me because no one like that would’ve shot anyone for any reason. That’s why I don’t mind him shooting me so much. It takes a lot of the pressure off me, having to keep him good, so as not to destroy the world.

The fact that I don’t have to keep him good means that I’m free to fuck him, but the weirdo never wants to fuck. I’ve quit asking. He’s always afraid his sister will hear us. There’s something about those two I can’t put my finger on. It’s like he’s really married to his sister and I’m the mistress he’s trying to keep a secret. A mistress he never fucks.

Notice that I said he thinks he’s in love with me. I didn’t say he is in love with me. He doesn’t know me. In fact, all this love is getting in the way of him knowing a thing about me. It keeps him from seeing me for the loser I am. So, he keeps loving me, which is what he wants to do. He just wants to love someone, so he invents someone to love.

Notice I didn’t say I’m in love with him. Although, he’s cool, I guess. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the love he thinks he has for me that’s getting in the way of any loving I could do. It’s like he doesn’t need it from me. I can treat him as bad as I want and he’d still go right on loving me because he can’t see a thing. If things keep going on like this, I could end up hating him because he pays no attention to me, even though he’s up my ass constantly.

Chai Latte is the guy I really love, for all the shit he’s done to me. I think it’s like this. You don’t fall in love and then choose a person. You choose them first and then fall in love with them because you chose them. And you choose them before you know them, so you don’t really need to know them to love them. In fact, it’s better if you don’t know them.

Also, only one person in a couple can choose. That’s why only one person can do the loving. The one who doesn’t do the loving ends up hating because everyone wants to be the one who gets the choice, even though it’s hard and you’ve got to work hard and get beat up. That’s the way it is. It’s not the way we want it, so it takes a while before we understand.

For now, I’m happy being the one loved, rather than having to do all the loving. It’s easier that way, even though I don’t get to choose. Screw choice.

Gratitude Number 3
For whatever reason it’s important, I guess I have to include on my gratitude list the fact that the sister doesn’t know I’m in the house. When I worked at the cafe, I’d see her come in wearing her long dresses and cardigans, no matter how hot it is outside. She asks me if I’ve seen him and, when I say no, she looks like she wouldn’t believe anything I would say, anyway. Then she gets a look in her eye that tells me there’s a whole lot of crazy going on.

If I’m a madwoman in the attic of a crazy house, does that make me sane?

Gratitude Number 4
I got this attic all to myself. There’s a broken window on one end and a good one on the other that’s really dirty. Birds fly in and out whenever they want. It’s like I’m a bird in a cage and the real birds are free to come over and see me. They whistle their songs to me and I learn to whistle them back. It makes them happy when I talk like them.

There is a whole lot of junk piled up in this attic, but it’s actually better than the rest of the house. You couldn’t get more of a mess downstairs if a newspaper truck collided with a tractor trailer full of electronics and they both overturned in a flea market.

When I get bored, I go through the boxes up here and find all the things these people kept and forgot they had. That’s what gratitudes are, I guess. Stuff we got in the attic and didn’t even know we had. The Fry ought to add something in their song about that. I’ll have to tell them.

Gratitude Number 5
No gratitude list would be complete if I didn’t add the Spellbinding Fish Fry. It breaks my heart that I can’t be with them right now and I left my music behind when I ran out of Chai Latte’s, but I got all their songs in my head. Anytime I want, I can just sing them. It also warms my heart to know that out in Ohio, they and all the Deep Fries are working hard to bring peace, love, and understanding to the world.

I am starting to see that, when I get more understanding, it changes what I know about love. I don’t know about peace. Peace could turn out to be very different from what I imagined it would be, just like love. It might turn out to be something I don’t want, either.

Gratitude Number 6
My boyfriend can’t find me here. The drug-dealing boyfriend, Chai Latte, I mean. He’s going to be pissed when he finds out I’m gone and even more pissed when he finds out I took the money under his bed. I would’ve taken more if I could carry it. I would’ve taken less if he hadn’t been such a prick. But then I wouldn’t have needed to run away at all, would I?

When I’m not snooping around the attic, I’m counting my money. Three thousand hundred dollar bills. More than this girl has ever see in her life, certainly all at once; probably more than I got from every shit job I ever had.

Gratitudes Numbers 7 through 3007
$300,000.00. I really like writing all those zeros.

By my calculation that’s enough to drive out to catch up with the Fry and follow them all the days of my life without having to stop at these towns to make enough money to go on. If I sleep in the car and get someone else to buy my weed, that is.

So, what am I doing, hanging around in this attic like a madwoman, or a caged bird, or a kept mistress who never gets fucked when I’ve got all this money? That’s the thing that erases all the gratitudes. I can’t leave because of that prick I love, Chai Latte. He’s got to be watching my car and he’ll kill me. What was I thinking? I never should have let the nice guy drag me up here in his attic, but I thought it was a good idea for someone to love me. I should have taken off while I could have. Now, I’ve got to lay low for a while, at least as long as the drugs hold out. Then I make my move and do my part in spreading peace, love, and understanding to the whole world. Peace and understanding at least.

Rabbi ! shares a parable

You may be wondering, Dear Reader, why I, S Harry Zade, don’t come right out and tell you what happened to the Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista. Why do I dick around with these long digressions? What is it with the rabbit trail of the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat? Who cares about the agonies and the ecstasy of Kenilworth’s resident saint when there’s real action going on. Time is money, you might be saying; let’s get on with it. Enough of this swirling around suburban streets; where’s the highway? Indeed, enough of the journey; it’s time we arrived at our destination. Are we there yet?

Similarly, you may also be wonder why I, S Harry Zade, as a literary stylist, don’t favor the pared down style of simple, direct, and unadorned prose that’s so much in vogue. Less, is more, the writing teachers say. Take out all necessary words say the resident geniuses at Bread Loaf and Iowa Writers Workshop. Remove everything but the minimal necessary to convey meaning. A journalistic style was good enough for Hemingway; why isn’t it good enough for me?

Well, there’s a couple reasons why. One practical; the other deep. The practical reason is that I’m a fictional character whose sole purpose in life is to be your narrator. I live to tell stories and will get killed off the moment I’m done telling them. In a sense, I’m paid by the hour and will linger by the time clock for as long as I can before I punch out.

The deep reason is why you should indulge me. It’s what you get out of it. It justifies bushwhacking through the brambles when you could be at camp, eating s’mores by the fire, already, before stretching out for an early bed. Of course, I can’t just tell you the deep reason; I have to impart it my own way.

It reminds me of another sermon by the Laughing Rabbi, as he told it to us at the Epiphany Cafe.

There was a man who lived way up in the hills and ate nothing but raw wheat, which he grew himself. Day in and day out, nothing but plain wheat.

It sounded horrible to us. No caramel almond milk lattes, no peanut butter cookies as big as a dinner plate, no cheesy smushed paninis, no scones, no danishes; why, not even any sandwich wraps.

The man came to town one day, got hungry, and looked for something to eat. None of the stores had raw wheat. None of the restaurants served raw wheat. He walked into a bakery. They had something which they called bread.

They sold him some bread. It had a hard, flaky crust on the outside and a soft, warm, fragrance inside. The showed him how to drizzle honey on it and he ate.

How did you like it?” asked the baker.

“Oh, it’s OK,” said the man from the hills. “What’s in it?”

The baker said, “This bread is made from wheat.”

The man was still hungry. He pointed to another object in the baker’s display case.

“What is that?” he asked.

“That’s a croissant,” said the baker.

“I’ll have that,” said the man from the hills.

He ate the croissant with strawberry jam, just like they showed him.

“How do you like it?” asked the baker.

“Oh, it’s OK,” said the man from the hills. “What’s in it?”

“It’s made from wheat, ground into a fine, white flour. There’s also lots of butter.”

The man was still hungry. He pointed to another object in the baker’s display case.

“What is that?” he asked.

“That’s a chocolate cupcake,” said the baker.

“I’ll have that,” said the man. He ate the chocolate cupcake.

“How do you like it?” asked the baker.

“Oh, it’s OK,” said the man from the hills. “What’s in it?”

“It’s also made from a finely ground, wheat flour. I’ve added chocolate and shortening and it’s topped with a creamy frosting.”

Finally, the man was full. It was time for him to leave. The man had to go back home to the hills.

“Can I get you anything to take home with you?” asked the baker. “Besides bread, croissants, and cupcakes, I also have biscotti, danish, muffins, scones, turnovers, cookies, pies, tarts, cakes, baguettes, and rolls. Maybe you’d like to try them?”

“What are all those made out of?”

“Basically, wheat.”

“Why would I take anything home with me? I already have wheat, and eat wheat every day. If wheat is the basic ingredient of everything you make, then I’ve already had it all.”

The laughing rabbi laughed. We didn’t laugh. As laughing rabbi stories go, this was one of his better stories; but, what did it mean? We didn’t get the point.

Ever since the enlightenment, Western men and women have been preoccupied with narrowing everything down to the essentials. This has resulted in the elocution of the laws of physics and all the advances of science; but it has also given us reductionism in philosophy and fundamentalism in religion. It’s brought us impersonal architecture, unrecognizable art, and incomprehensible literature. We have turned people into numbers and governance into bureaucracy. We would just as soon interact with machines than people. We’ve dismissed everything that makes life worth living as mere fluff. We have become a civilization of wheat eaters.

So, there you have it. What would you rather have, Dear Reader? Bread, croissants, and cupcakes, biscotti, danish, muffins, scones, turnovers, cookies, pies, tarts, cakes, baguettes, and rolls, or raw wheat?

The Lisping Barista and the Geeky Guy nurse their wounds

The Geeky Guy had seen a bottle of hydrogen peroxide around the house, somewhere. He was looking in all the possible places without resorting to asking his sister or going downstairs, where his sister might speak to him. He moved the broken electronics that were blocking the linen closet door: TVs, flat and bulging; phones, cordless and corded; radios, big and small; fishing boat sonar processors; VCRs; laptops; printers; fax machines; scanners; barometers; GPS receivers; CD players; woofers and sub woofers; all the treasures he had picked up on garbage day and said he’d fix. They were all in the way now. He had found the greatest treasure of his life, shot her, brought her home, and needed to fix her; but he couldn’t find the damn peroxide.

She said it was OK, she’d heard it wasn’t good for wounds, she’d just use soap and water. She said she didn’t need a hospital, it wasn’t that bad, it had only grazed her. She said she was glad he came, thankful he found her, sorry she hit him with a baseball bat. No, she’d rather not go to the hospital. A doctor was unnecessary. She didn’t have insurance. This was the perfect place to hide. Chai Latte would never find her here, in this house. No one would come to look for her here, it looked haunted, and no one would suspect she was with him, the Geeky Guy. He needn’t worry. It was fine. He should be doing something for his shoulder.

But it wasn’t fine. The peroxide wasn’t in the medicine cabinet, either. Nor, in the bedroom. Nor any other place you would or wouldn’t expect to find it. He came across some ancient gauze his parents had bought twenty years ago for an occasion just like this. There was some first aid tape, so old it lost its stick. There was some disinfecting stuff you sprayed; but not the peroxide. What was the use of having peroxide if you couldn’t find it when you needed it, when you shot the girl you regarded as your wife and she was sitting on your bed in your bedroom, where no girl had been before, bleeding into the sheets.

The sheets were none too clean to be bleeding into, she thought, as she sat bleeding into them. The Lisping Barista was never one to be too fastidious, but she had limits to the grodiness she could accept. She looked around. She wasn’t the most organized person in the world, but she had never seen anything like it. He could barely open the door to squeeze in the room. From there to the bed there was a path where you couldn’t put two feet side by side. Even the bed was partly covered by electronics. A desk had soldering equipment, a bright light, bins of screws, screwdrivers, and pliers, but no peroxide. The room was more of a workshop than a living space. She was relieved when the Geeky Guy, later, after he had given up on the peroxide and dressed her wound, said that she couldn’t stay where his sister could find her. She would have to hide in the attic.

It was a major project just to get to the attic door. The door was right there, in his room, behind boxes, piles of laundry, and a garbage can that hadn’t been emptied in ten years. He, with a bad shoulder, and she, with a a bullet hole, together moved the objects, as if they only had two good arms between them. At last they could open the attic door, and they went up the stairs, brushing back the cobwebs, and seeking the chain of a single, bare light.

The house on High Street had been in the Geeky Guy’s family since it was built in Victorian times and, since the family had never left, the attic accumulated the detritus of generations. Dusty furniture. Hat boxes. An old daguerreotype camera with a black hood. Trunks that hadn’t been opened in a century. Paintings that only briefly saw the light of day. At one end of the attic a window was broken and allowed the entry of starlings. Though the dirty window at the other end, a streetlight shone. A dressmaker’s dummy produced a headless silhouette against the light that caused them both to come up short. The Geeky Guy thought it was the black ghost of his mother, come to reproach him for clashing with his sister. The Lisping Barista thought it was his sister, who was known to be otherworldly creepy. When reason took over, they cleared a space on the floor, and made a bed out of some old dresses.

Once the Lisping Barista threw out the whalebone corsets and arranged a bustle to serve as a pillow, the crude mattress wasn’t half bad. The attic was as crammed with junk as the rest of the house and anything they disturbed would precipitate bouts of sneezing. On a scale of luxury, the attic couldn’t compare to the soft bed, multiple pillows, and fine thread Egyptian cotton sheets of Chai Latte, but the Lisping Barista felt safe with the Geeky Guy, even though, less than an hour ago, he had shot her.

The Lisping Barista, being who she was, as soon as she got comfortable, began to get amorous. The Geeky Guy, being who he was, was unprepared for this. He could play the part of Knight in Shining Armor to a T; but, when it came to sex, he was lost at C. As usual, she was more than willing to make up for his hesitation with her stimulation, but a problem began to arise.

It seems that, when one is shot, or hit on the shoulder with a baseball bat, it doesn’t hurt so much at first. Adrenaline, endorphins, shock, crisis, surprise, and relief take over. Then you get busy looking for the peroxide. It’s not until later, after you bring your love home to stay and after you make a bed for yourself out of silk dresses, that it starts to hurt; and, when it hurts, it hurts like a son-of-a-gun.

They discussed a solution. The Geeky Guy would go to the hospital and have someone look at his shoulder. He would say that he had engaged in some sort of a construction project in his house and a beam fell on it. He would get it x-rayed, have them sling a sling, and above all, bring back plenty of Oxies. On that last point, the Lisping Barista was insistent. Percosets would do if they wouldn’t give out Oxies, but he had to come back with something. Don’t act like you want them too much, don’t ask for them by name, but don’t leave for home without them. They needed Oxies enough for both of them and she wasn’t going to go to any hospital where Chai Latte would find her and the cops would start asking questions about why she was shot. She couldn’t go, so he had to and bring back the Oxies. Like she said, Percosets would be fine and even Codeine would be better than nothing; Fentanyl would be lovely. And she was going to need them more than he because, after all, it’s a more serious thing to be shot than to have a tap on the shoulder, but don’t tell them it was just a tap on the shoulder. Tell them it hurts and you can’t sleep, and you can’t do anything, because of the pain, so they give you plenty of Oxies.

The Geeky Guy said that’s what he’d do and she made him practice saying it. My shoulder hurts so bad. It’s a ten on a ten point scale. I’ll be careful not to abuse them. I don’t want to get addicted. Ow! Eww! Damn it, that hurts! Thank you. Is that going to help?

It was a good thing that the Lisping Barista made the Geeky Guy repeat his lines. He wouldn’t have known what to say. Moreover, he wasn’t paying close attention. His mind was on the headless dressmaker’s dummy in the attic and on the bodiless head of his mother that had been tossed on his lap.

The High Street Witch pets her cat

With such a large cast of characters associated with the Epiphany Cafe, it’s inevitable that I will neglect someone. You may have been wondering what the High Street Witch has been up to. Now that the Lisping Barista has swung her bat and the Geeky Guy has fired his gun, you may be thinking it’s high time we returned to High Street to see what the witch is doing. Well, if so, today is your lucky day. We’re heading there now; and so are the Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista.

The witch was sitting in the front room, petting her black cat and cackling at her sitcoms, not far from the door through which they entered. The Geeky Guy had never been the type to sneak in; but he never brought a girl home with him, either. Theirs was an ancient house, a warren of undersized rooms which were filled with piles and piles of junk; creating a labyrinth of passageways to insure that nothing could escape. He was sneaking in now, relying on the stacks of newspapers by the door to avoid her questions.

The sitcoms were not so absorbing so as to occupy all the High Street Witch’s mind or her senses. Nothing her brother did ever got past her, although she may not understand it all. She hadn’t been like a mother to him all these years for nothing, although it seemed that way now. She had eyes in the back of her head, like a mother, and she had ears by the door. In fact, she was more of a mother than their mother had even been, as she often found a reason to say.

Her brother had been acting strangely, ever since that girl infiltrated their lives. He came home very late from the date and never told her a thing about it. He’d always told her everything, even when there was nothing to say. Then, she heard he bought a coffee shop. A coffee shop! Except for drinking coffee, what could he know about coffee shops? But, if going on a date and buying a coffee shop was all that had happened, it would’ve been quite unusual, indeed. But nothing could hurt as much as the single, cruel, selfish thing he did, then.

She had left college the very night of their parent’s accident without even packing her stuff. She got on a Greyhound bus that worried through every town, till she arrived at the hospital and found him sitting alone with his clothes covered in blood, too sad to even cry. She never returned to school, foreswearing her own life, in favor of devotion to his. She never asked for anything in exchange, but there was one thing she liked.

The very night she returned, he took a bath and dressed pre-pubescently in his PJ’s. She walked through the rambling, dreadfully desolate, old house and thought, how could only two fill this space? When he went to his room for the night and she went to hers, it was as she was totally alone in the world. No, worse than that. It was as if she had been thrown off the world and was hurtling through the vacancy of space.

It was then that her little brother did the most wonderful thing. He knocked on her door. And she did the most natural, motherly thing. She opened the sheets to let him in. They spent that night in full embrace. Two lost children, there for each other, with no one else in the world.

That’s the way it had been for years until the High Street Witch found out about the girl, went to the coffee shop, and attempted to cast her spell. You remember the spell, don’t you? The cruel, calculating, guilt-inducing accusation, designed to preserve a stagnant status quo.

“You wish I’d died with them; don’t you?” she had said. “You wish you had my decapitated head under your arm, too. Then you’d be free to do what you want.”

The spell had always worked before. Whenever he would say he would sleep in his own room, she would cast the spell and they would be back in her bed that night, her head ironically tucked under his arm. But the night he returned from that date, he did the cruel thing. He went straight to his old room, evicted the broken electronics they had piled on the bed, and slept there, without a word. It just wasn’t fair.

So, now he was coming home with that girl, whispering by the door. They didn’t even stop to explain, but went straight upstairs, leaving the High Street Witch to her sitcoms and the cat. When the footfalls settled upstairs, the cat startled, clawed her legs, and darted to the kitchen, its tail high. As the laugh track on the sitcom guffawed, a lone tear, cast off its faltering orb, careened down the witch’s cheek.

The Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista meet at the doorway

Chai Latte had no reason to ring the bell when he got home; he had a key. But he might have forgotten his key, so the Lisping Barista thought it was Chai Latte, who rang the bell. His ringing the bell and her answering the door, definitely made it harder for her to hide behind the door and clobber him over the head with a baseball bat.

She unlocked the door, stood behind it, lifted the bat over her head, and said,  “Come in. It’th open.”

The Geeky Guy expected that, when he rang the bell, there would be a fight before he could get in. He was ready for a fight, he had a gun; but hearing the Lisping Barista saying come in sounded like a trick. Nonetheless, he turned the knob, pushed the door, and let it swing open. He switched the safety off on his gun, and took a step, not so far as to pass the door; but just enough to block it.

This is the way we step into the future. This is how we receive the knock at the door. With pistols drawn and bats raised, on the defense, expecting the worse. This is how the future enters, how change appears.

Rabbi ! once said that, when God finally arrives to wipe away all your tears, you’ll shoot him in the chest. When the World to Come comes, you’ll clobber it with a bat. When God opens the prison door, you’ll assault Him before He takes two steps inside. You’ll bite the hand that removes your chains, kick the shins that brings you hope, squirm in the arms that carry you home. You’ll murder hope before it has a chance to speak. You’ll slay every dream you ever had. You’ll mistake perfection for deception, confuse what you’ve always wanted for what you’ve always got.

Rabbi ! had planned that sermon and tried it out on us in the Epiphany Cafe, but no one believed him. The Lisping Barista had been there. She heard it, but said it was far fetched. She was certain to recognize peace, love, and understanding when it finally arrived for good. The World to Come had already come for her, if only for a few minutes at a time. When it comes to stay, she’d welcome it with a scream of delight, just as she greets all the Spellbinding Fish Fry’s songs.

The Geeky Guy had been there as well. He heard Rabbi !’s sermon; but didn’t believe it any more than anyone else. He had always seen things differently; so, while everyone else mistook the World to Come for something else, he would see it for it was. He’d recognize it from the schematics, he knew the command language. It’s easy to identify perfection, there would be no error messages.

The Geeky Guy’s finger felt for the trigger. The Lisping Barista took another grip.

We gave Rabbi ! so much trouble for his prophecy that he never delivered it to his congregation; but he knew he was right.

Little Theresa knew this, too, that we murder deliverance. She had a little statue in her room, a crucifixion, mounted in dung, depicting that very thing. But Little Theresa was not one to give sermons, at least not the kind with words.

The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat also knew this well, although he didn’t know that he knew it. He had killed off every promise that ever arrived. All those ghosts that spoke to him tried to bring him help, but he wouldn’t let them talk. He preferred his salvation packaged in a bottle, with a convenient twist-off top, and the promise of a nickel when returned.

In fact, this tendency to murder anything that comes to save us is so ubiquitous, so universal, so gosh darn predictable, that the only reason any wonderful thing has ever come is because we don’t have the ability to kill them all. Ineptitude may be the only thing that will save the Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista from each other and from themselves.

Sweat beaded the brow the Geeky Guy. The Lisping Barista perceived her pulse in her temples.

That moment, in which the Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista were preparing to kill one another, was a moment marinating in irony. It wasn’t a long moment, although it seemed eternal. It was a tableau of the human condition, a representative scene in which a person, any person, every person, will exterminate the very thing they most need. It was also a moment long enough for the Geeky Guy to prepare a plan.

The plan was for the Geeky Guy to place his hand on the door and swiftly swing it closed as he pivoted in that direction and pointed his pistol at Chai Latte’s chest. It would only take a second. In the next second he’d pull the trigger. In two seconds it would all be over; but first he’d have to get through this eternal moment.

The Lisping Barista had a plan, too, although it was the same plan she had from the beginning. She’d clobber this man, who she believed was Chai Latte, over the head. Then, she’d walk out the door, free, without worry that he would follow. She knew that she only had one swing, so she’d better get it right. If she missed, then Chai would take the bat away and use it on her. In the next few moments she would either be free or dead, both outcomes equally desirable.

The Geeky Guy straightened his spine. The Lisping Barista shifted her weight.

The next move had to belong to the Geeky Guy. His plan, to place his hand on the door and swing it closed, was a simple operation; but even simple operations can be screwed up. The Geeky Guy was not experienced in home invasion. If he had been, or if he had taken the time during the eternal moment to plan thoroughly, he would’ve known to place his hand on the doorknob, out of view of the person behind the door. As it was, he inexpertly placed his hand over the edge of the door, revealing his plan to swing it closed half a second before he could execute it.

This half a second was long enough for the Lisping Barista to spot the hand, predict what was about to happen, and recognize that the hand did not belong to Chai Latte. Chai Latte’s hand had a lot of rings. She knew these rings because, when he would strike her in the face, it was his rings that did the striking. His rings made quite an impression on her. This hand had no rings. It was the hand of the Geeky Guy.

The Lisping Barista knew how to swing a bat. She had played softball. She knew that she had to start early, react quickly, and not think too much about what she was doing. The half second was long enough for her to start her swing; but, after seeing the hand did not belong to Chai Latte, it was not long enough for her to stop it.

The Geeky Guy, for his part, swung the door open and pulled the trigger of the gun before fully completing his pivot. He was not as experienced in shooting a handgun as the Lisping Barista was in swinging a bat, but it was such close range, he couldn’t miss.

Although the Lisping Barista was not able to check her swing, she was able to swerve enough to miss the top of the Geeky Guy’s head, in much the same way that she might adjust to hit a curve. The bat glanced off his shoulder, but the top of his head was fine.

The very next moment, as the echoes of the shot reverberated through the neighborhood, before the blood began to flow, before the pain set in, was spent with the Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista looking at one another, taking in the moment with all its delicious irony. They needed some time to catch up to the rest of us, to know what we’ve known all along. Perhaps they remembered Rabbi !’s sermon and how he prophesied the event, how we try to kill whomever or whatever tries to save us.

If the moment before had been a tableau, depicting human resistance to change, the next moment was a second scene that followed the first. The second one illustrated the uncertain moment when two lovers realize they’ve wounded one another, as lovers are apt to do.

They both gasped.

Then pain set in and blood began to flow.

The Lisping Barista Gets a Song in her Head

I have to do this right away or I’ll change my mind. You know, Option #7; the clobber Chai Latte with a baseball bat one. As soon as he leaves, I get the bat and wait by the door.

While I’m waiting, I got this song going through my head. It’s from the Spellbinding Fish Fry. They call it, One Heaven. It might be my favorite. It goes like this:

One Heaven when everything’s done.

One place for everyone.

Arabs and Jews,

Folks that’s got and ain’t got shoes.

Black and White,

Folks who’s wrong and folks who’s right.

Young and Old,

Shy and the bold, the tame and uncontrolled.

One Heaven when everything’s done.

One place for everyone.

So, we’ll all have to get along.

Yeah, I know. You got to be there. The song goes on like that for a hundred verses with all kinds of categories. Every time I go to a concert, they got more. They don’t call them spellbinding for nothing. Anyway, it’s a feel good song. They’re all feel good songs. They promote peace, love, and understanding.

The first time I went to hear the Fry I was meeting friends. I couldn’t find them, so I make my way to the stage, turn around, and work outwards, you know, so I can see faces. Everyone’s smiling and I start to get paranoid because I think they’re all laughing at me. I’m about to lose my shit right there in the middle of the concert; but, then I realize, hey, it’s feel good music. All these thousands of Deep Fries are just feeling good; that’s why they’re smiling. They’re not laughing at me.

I used to think I could be down with peace, love, and understanding. One heaven for everyone was good for me. Now I’m not sure.

What’ll I do when I get to Heaven and Chai Latte’s there? I hate it when he comes home. I hear his key in the door and I wonder how he’ll be. No, I can’t see spending eternity with Chai. A couple weeks is bad enough.

For that matter, what about Hitler, or Stalin, or Attila the Hun? How’d you like to be in heaven with them? That would be totally whacked, sitting on a cloud with Osama Bin Laden and strumming harps with Vlad the Impaler.

I know what you’re saying, they got Hell for that kind. They don’t let them into Heaven. St Peter turns them away at the door. It makes me feel real good thinking of Chai at the end of a pitchfork, getting roasted with his feet in a block of ice. I like that. But then I think, if I like torturing him so much, doesn’t that make me as bad as him? What’s worse, beating up your girlfriend a couple times when you’re drunk, or clobbering a guy with a baseball bat and wanting to fry him in Hell forever when you’re stone cold sober?

No, I’ll have to get my shit together before I show up in Heaven. They won’t let a bitter, vindictive type up there. Otherwise, I’d be like the one guy at a Spellbinding Fish Fry concert not smiling, arms crossed, scoffing at how naive everyone is, not even taping my foot, much less dancing in the dusty infield.

OK, so, maybe I don’t have to send Chai to Hell. God’ll do it for me. Or St Peter, or some other bouncer dude they got up there. But that doesn’t work either. Then you got God not smiling when He’s supposed to be the host. You got St Peter checking off from a list of wrongs, scoffing at people, because they’ve got the balls to line up for Heaven. You got a bouncer dude standing around with his arms crossed, saying with his eyes, just give me an excuse to kick your ass.

That doesn’t sound like Heaven to me. Heaven, to me, is like a Spellbinding Fish Fry concert. Everyone’s happy and loving everyone except, maybe for a few walking around, thinking everyone is dissing them. Hilter, Stalin, Attila, Osama, Vlad, Chai, that whole evil crew, getting uptight and paranoid because they can’t imagine a place where everyone’s happy.

I’m about ready to forgive Chai Latte and plan on smiling at him when we I see him in Heaven; but then I hear the door. I’m standing behind it with a baseball bat. If I don’t clobber him, I’m fucked.

The Geeky Guy Goes Out in the Rain to Get the Meaning of Life

The next day it started raining, tentatively at first, like a long-silenced wife who, for the first time, is asked what she thinks. Soon the sky was packed tight with clouds and the drops got bigger and bigger, until the rain filled the world with a heavy beat, suggestive of a long-suffering wife smashing the dishes. It was like a disease of rain, dull in its unvarying monotony, smothering as a fever, cruel as suffocating phlegm. It fell over all of Kenilworth; over the Head Surveyor, whose transit fogged; over the Town Cop, whose brim ran rivets; over the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, who huddled under his dumpster; and over the Crazy Dog Lady’s dogs, who saved their shaking till they got inside. It inspired Rabbi ! to write a sermon about Noah. It pockmarked the Connecticut River and gave it strength. It flooded Abraham Pierson’s grave and dampened Chai Latte’s drugs, but it did not extinguish the Geeky Guy’s desire.

The Geeky Guy still grieved over the one he regarded as his wife, the Lisping Barista. No little bit of rain, or ocean full of rain, would dissuade him from what he thought was right. He would go to her, claim her as his own, and set her free. He had a gun and could make it happen.

Perhaps we should pause for a minute, if only because he failed to, and examine why he felt this way. We should ask the question of him that the Therapist Emeritus would have asked had she still been there. We should seize hold of the Geeky Guy, hang tight to his sleeve, and demand one thing of him before he goes.

Just what do you think you’re doing?

We won’t ask him this, though. You won’t because you are just a reader and cannot leap into the pages of a book and affect its outcome. I won’t do it because it’s raining outside, the Geeky Guy has already left, and I don’t want to get wet. It wouldn’t do any good, because the Geeky Guy wouldn’t know how to answer and, if he did, he wouldn’t know how to say it right.

You see, it was not the Lisping Barista that he was trying to save; it was the meaning of his life. It was not a relationship he needed to preserve because, in truth, he had no relationship except that of employer to employee. The Geeky Guy thought his life had no meaning other than the Lisping Barista. It had no meaning before she arrived, and it would have no meaning if she left.

Having meaning in his life never seemed an important thing before she had said yes. He used to go to work every day and tinker with his engineering projects without one. He’d come home and tinker with his electrical projects without one. Days, years, and projects came and went without the Geeky Guy ever thinking about their purpose. But when the Lisping Barista did come into his life, bearing its meaning, he began to believe it was an essential thing.

A meaning, you see, is very powerful; more potent than a gun. A gun can only kill you, but a meaning can affect your whole existence. Without meaning, he came to believe, there was no reason to have been born.

The Geeky Guy should have been more careful about where he had found the meaning of his life and what he did with it. He shouldn’t have found it in the Lisping Barista, who was a fickle thing. He should have found it in his engineering, which was built to last; his electronics, which kept a charge; or even his sister, who rarely left the house. He could have taken up charity work, written the Great American Novel, or found a cure for cancer. Any meaning of life would have been better than adopting the Lisping Barista as the meaning of his. It was bound to end badly.

He should not have acted as though the meaning of life was so precious that it needed to be hoarded whenever found. He could always find another. In fact, meanings of life are quite plentiful, like stones on a Connecticut hillside. You can’t walk a hundred paces in any direction without stubbing your toe on a dozen of them. To put it another way, each meaning of life is like a lungful of air; no sooner are you done with one when another comes along to replace it. The Geeky Guy was acting as if he had come upon a fine lungful of air and had to keep it because he might not get another.

He also made the mistake of thinking that the meaning of his life was like a riddle that had a single answer. The meaning of life is not like a problem in mathematics, which either adds up or doesn’t. It’s more like a design problem; there’s a million ways it can be solved. There is no right answer and there was no one but him who could give him a grade.

At least the Geeky Guy did not make the usual error people make regarding the meaning of life. At least he didn’t fret over whether the meaning of his life was worthy of his life. Perhaps he felt his life was not that valuable and that any meaning would be good enough and better than none at all. At any rate, she was a sufficient meaning and he was determined to keep it.

Having a meaning of life meant something. It meant he had something greater than life, something he could exchange for life. It meant he could die, for if his life had meaning, so would his death. It also meant he could kill.