S. Harry Zade fudges a little

With the Epiphany Café closed, I had to go somewhere else to find my stories. Therefore, your intrepid reporter has been lurking in the lilacs outside the Geeky Guy’s house. This location does not have the advantages I enjoyed in Kenilworth’s finest coffee establishment. I could sip the take-out from Dunkin Donuts and sit quite comfortably on the ground, with my back against a trunk, but the rain could get me wet and spiders liked to size me up for their web. However, a fictional character need not fret about the weather if his author doesn’t mention it and he will never get bit unless it advances the plot, so I was happy to spend hours in the lilacs gathering information to share with you.

I’m sorry to say I had little to go on. I could not directly witness the proceedings inside the house. I had planted a bug by catching the witch’s black cat when it was let out, slipping it under her collar, and waiting till it was let back in. She now was purring at the foot of the witch’s bed, along with whomever her companion might be, while I sat outside with a set of earphones on and a receiver tucked underneath my jacket. I could just make out the creeps and groans of the floor as the Lisping Barista came down from the attic to go on her exploration. I could see shadows cast to the inside of the curtains, and I could use everything I knew about the characters involved to assemble a reasonable narrative of what was going on. However, I must confess that most of what I have already told you about what happened in that house is constructed from the little bit of data I have gathered.

Some more meticulous readers may object to my rendering scenes I did not observe. Wait just one cotton pickin’ minute here, they might say; although I’d doubt it, few people say cotton pickin’ any more, if they ever did. Wait a minute, they would repeat, you mean to say that everything we just read as written by the Lisping Barista was made up?

Yes, that’s right, I would answer. Everything since she left the Epiphany Café is entirely my own creation. I have learned to mimic both her patterns of thought and her writing style by studying her closely. Then, I used my imagination to present to you what is, strictly speaking, a story that blurs the lines between what you call truth and fiction.

Don’t get me started on what you call truth. You know my beliefs about fictional characters and the ones who are said to be real. I shouldn’t need to repeat them here. I can summarize them by saying everyone is fictional, anyway. The same goes for events. Every bona fide event, even those reported by the Associated Press, or some other highly respected source, is fiction. That is to say, the event as it occurred was cut and pasted, photoshopped, proofread, and edited for your consumption. You see, events don’t come with a narrative; we create a narrative for them. There is no beginning, no end, and no context. The things world leaders utter in their own language are nicely translated for you. News photos are framed to exclude extraneous distractions. Soundbites are fashioned to get right to the point. There’s nothing between the lines, for there are no lines. It’s all just blooming, buzzing confusion until us storytellers nicely package it for you.

What I have done is akin to an archeologist who finds an ancient manuscript with four out of five words missing. He fills in what he supposes is there. It’s like an astronomer who takes a reading of a star one day, another reading a week later, and traces the line between them as the path the star had traveled. It’s no different than Darwin studying the birds and beasts of the Galapagos and constructing a tale of how they got to be so different. It takes imagination to see the truth, so I should not have to apologize for using my imagination.

I was in the lilac bushes, explaining this to you; explaining it to myself, really, for you, dear reader weren’t there, except in my imagination; when a passerby, walking home from the bar, stopped because he thought he heard someone who sounded like a professor of literature lecturing in the lilacs. He listened for a while and peered through the bushes, to see if he could make out a classroom, a podium, and a tweedy, self-absorbed instructor, surrounded by sleepy students, staring at their phones. I halted my hectoring, sat very still, and counted on incongruity to hide me better than the bushes ever could. In the end, he pulled his eyes away, shuddered his head, and staggered on, carrying an amusing anecdote to tell his wife when he got home. She wouldn’t smile at the story, but she would renew her efforts to get him to stop drinking.

Returning to our imaginary conversation, the meticulous readers might ask, how is it possible to tell truth from falsehood? Is it all fake news anyway?

I believe stories can be tested for truth. Truth is not correspondence to things in themselves, for the things in themselves can never, ever be adequately represented on a page. You know truth by a different test. It has a ring.

For instance, the story the passerby would tell his wife, that he’d heard a literature professor lecturing in the lilacs on High Street, did not have the ring of truth for her. The story that his wife would tell herself, that he’d heard voices because he was drinking too much, did. If only he had said he found a homeless man, camping out on High Street, talking to himself, then that would’ve been a story that could be believed; but it would’ve been a story so unremarkable that it would not have been worth telling.

The ring of truth is not something that can be explained; you know it when you come across it. When a story has that ring, all the parts harmonize together. The characters sound like human beings you might have heard speak and the plot flows out of things they might have done. You can trace their history up to their present situation and their conflicts are something you would care about, if you were them. The setting has enough details to make it seem like an actual place and the conclusion is not dropped out of the sky, but it emerges as a natural consequence of what has happened.

Let me tell you what happened next with the Lisping Barista, so you can see the ring of truth in action. You will read a work of imagination, constructed from few actual facts. Then you tell me if it has that ring I’m talking about.

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The Lisping Barista goes exploring and finds something she wasn’t supposed to see

I’ve been in this attic for, like a week or two and I’m going crazy. Boooooring. Yea, I’ve got the oxies, all the stuff in the attic, three-hundred-thousand useless dollars, no place to spend it, and my gratitudes for company, but that’s not going keep a girl like me happy for long. I’m used to doing things, seeing people, going places, and doing my little part in bringing peace, love, and understanding into the world. Sitting around, waiting for my guy to come to in, just for nothing to happen when he does, seems like something my grandmother might think was a good idea and she had her cooking, sewing, and bridge parties to keep her company. All I have is a bunch of old stuff no one wants, or I can’t use, and a guy who doesn’t seem to want me.

Yea, that’s right. He doesn’t want me. Most guys are all over me; but we’re like an old married couple, never having sex. He just wants to cuddle, but I push him away because it’s too aggravating. He complains as much about that as I complain about not fucking. There’s something unusual about that man.

So, it’s the middle of the night when I wake up and he’s not there. I haven’t been too good with time and there’s no clock anywhere in this attic. There’s no noises in the house. All there is, is traffic outside. It must be no one’s home. It’s the perfect time to go exploring.

I’ve got this reoccurring dream where I’m walking around in someone else’s house uninvited. There’s always some weird things about the house that seem perfectly normal in the dream, like there’s a giant hole in the roof over the living room that looks like it belongs there. Something unexpected always happens and I’m always worried I’m about to be caught. Walking around this house is a lot like that. In this case, every room is jammed to the ceiling with junk and there’s only one path I can take, and I have to walk sideways to get through. None of the doors can open all the way and the windows might as well not be there, they’re blocked by heaps of stuff.

If you’ve ever been in an antique shop, filled to the ceiling so you can’t move around or even see what’s there, you might have an idea of what the inside of the house looks like. Only it’s mostly electronics and piles of old newspapers. Not anything that anyone would ever buy, so it keeps piling up and up. I wouldn’t know how people could live in a place like this, except that I’ve been doing it for the past week or two, maybe three.

I’m feeling on edge as I creep from room to room. I’m not supposed to be here, which is strange, because I came into the house invited and the guy hasn’t wanted me to leave. He sets me up in the attic and tells me his sister wouldn’t want me around, so don’t go down and be really quiet. It was all good to me because I need to be hiding out from Chai Latte anyway and don’t want the witch getting pissed at me and telling him. He brings me everything I need and keeps me as content as a caged bird.

So, I’ve been having lots of time to think. You know how I’ve been changing my mind about love? You remember, I decided love wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Well, I’ve been thinking that way about peace, too. I’ve had nothing but peace up here in this attic.

There’s no weed, but I get all the oxies I want. There’s no sex, but there’s plenty of cuddling. For once in my life, I don’t have to work. I can’t do everything I want, but there’s nothing much I want and, if I wanted anything, I’ve got three-hundred-thousand dollars to buy it. There is the fact that Chai Latte would be wanting to kill me for taking the money, but, if he hasn’t found me yet in this attic, I don’t think he will. I may be kidding myself, I did read Anne Frank’s diary, a chick I can now relate to, and I know how it ends; but, if she can fight with her parents, fall in love, and believe in the hidden goodness of mankind, I can find peace when I know someone is looking to kill me.

Here’s the thing though, once you get peace, you’re not going to want it anymore. It’s fucking boring. You’re going to want to stir some shit up once and a while. You’re going to be compelled to explore a haunted house, poke around through someone’s belongings, and maybe get caught. You’re going to want some danger.

So, that’s why I’m creeping downstairs, looking for what I might see when I think they’re not home.

I get into one room and it’s so dark I run into the bed. When I reach down to stop from falling, I touch something, and it moves. It’s a body. Then it wakes up. I can tell it has long dark hair. It’s that witch, the sister. Then she says something, loud and clear. Too loud to be said in the middle of the night.

“So, now you know.”

Only, I don’t know anything. All I know was that I got caught creeping around the house I’m hiding in. Hiding from her. Really, she’s the one who knows now. She knows I’m here. What am I supposed to know?

Then there’s movement in the bed beside her. It’s a small bed, just big enough for one person. The sister must have someone she’s fucking. That’s it. That must be what I know. But who would want to be fucking that witch?

The person sits up suddenly. I can’t see who it is. Then he says something.

When I hear the voice that says it, that’s when I know. Knowing, and understanding, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either. There’s some things you don’t want to know. So, now I’m three for three. Peace, love, and understanding, all gone to shit.

The natives of Kenilworth get restless

While the Lisping Barista was nursing her wounds in the attic of the High Street haunted house, and the Geeky Guy was nursing her, nothing much was going on at the Epiphany Café. The café was closed. You see, now that the Geeky Guy had the Lisping Barista in his attic, he had no need for the café, which he had purchased for the sole reason to get close to her. Furthermore, he had no stomach for business and all the petty aggravations that come along with having to schedule workers and keep the place clean, prosperous, and fully stocked. He created spreadsheets for every task, but found that a spreadsheet by itself does not keep the half and half fresh and the napkins waiting. Consequently, if the café had run out of a crucial item or if the Geeky Guy hadn’t found anyone to work a particular shift, or if he had forgotten to ask, the café simply closed its doors. All of its customers’ epiphanies would have to wait for another day.

The people of Kenilworth are a fine, generous, charitable bunch most of the time, when it suits them; but they weren’t getting their fix of caffeine. The river, which had come all the way from the Frenchified regions of northern Vermont, not to mention New Hampshire, seemed to pause outside the café and shift back and forth in nervous waiting that the scientist types said was due to the comings and going of the tides. We all knew better, though, and recognized in the river’s agitation, our own feelings about the café’s closing. Eventually, the river moved on. What the environmental impact was on the shellfish and cod fisheries by discharging so much disappointed New England water into the Atlantic Ocean, we’ll never know. Could this be enough to tip the balance towards climate change? Might the Lisping Barista’s reluctant residence in the attic of the High Street haunted house prove to be ultimately responsible for the flooding of the Maldives Islands or the next big hurricane to hit Haiti? We can only speculate. What we do know are the immediate effects on the people of Kenilworth and what they did about it.

The first time the Crazy Dog Lady walked her dogs to the Epiphany Café and found it was closed, she continued right on to the Dunkin Donuts down the street; but they would not let her dogs in. She let out a howl when she saw the sign on the door. This was not right, she cried. It was discriminatory. The dogs, themselves took up the howl, even though they didn’t understood the full implications of the policy. It was enough for them that their alpha was upset.

The Town Cop, who was not directly affected by the café’s closing because he preferred Dunkin Donuts anyway, set aside his Boston Cream to see what the ruckus was all about. His presence was enough to deter the Crazy Dog Lady from storming the Dunkin Donuts and starting a revolution, but it was not enough to deter her from calling him a pig. The Town Cop, who still wore his thinning hair in a ponytail in homage to his hippie days, just shrugged his shoulders and said that, seeing as though he was a pig, he would have another donut.

Things were tough for the only cop in the town of Kenilworth. A long time ago the people of Kenilworth decided that they weren’t citizens anymore, they were only taxpayers. As soon as they realized that, they stopped paying taxes. They allowed their roads to deteriorate so they could have more money to blacktop their driveways. They each put a basketball hoop over each of those driveways because the one at the town park had fallen to the ground. They saved so much money by not paying school taxes that some of them could afford to send their kids to private school. They cut the police force to a single, pony-tailed, ex-hippie cop and hired the laid off policemen as private security guards. This cop, believing that arresting many people would only mean the crime rate was soring, seldom arrested anyone and preferred to hang out at the Dunkin Donuts with strangers, tourists, passers-by, and others who didn’t know any better. You see, before the closing of the Epiphany Café, few residents of Kenilworth ever went to Dunkin Donuts, for they knew the café was the better option. The Town Cop could spend all day eating donuts and the taxpayers wouldn’t know any better.

All this, of course, changed when the Epiphany Café closed its doors and we began to flock to the Dunkin Donuts. The Town Cop, who was no dummy, could see that times were a changing, ordered a box to go, got in his car, and found a quiet place in the woods to eat them.

The Town Drug Dealer also knew the value of keeping up appearances. He and the Town Cop had an understanding. The Drug Dealer would not deal drugs in front of the cop and the cop would not arrest him. Therefore, the Epiphany Café’s closing had shut down his business until he saw that the Town Cop had left the Dunkin Donuts with a box. Then he moved right in.

The only one really happy about the Epiphany Café’s closing was the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker, who was grateful for the No Dogs sign at the Dunkin Donuts. However, she soon found something else to be afraid about. There were so many people at the Dunkin Donuts, with the Kenilworth residents joining the passers-through, that there were a couple of times she forgot to breath. Actually, she remembered breathing, but she told herself that, with so many people in one room, there would not be enough air left over for her. Therefore, the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker, exited the dog-free Dunkin Donuts just as she had often exited the dog-ridden Epiphany Café; only now, when she stepped out of the door, she was greeted by the Crazy Dog Lady and all of her dogs who had set up a picket line in protest of the sign. This all was too much for the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker, who went back into the foyer and pecked her iPhone.

Most of us crossed the Crazy Dog Lady’s picket line and passed the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker in the foyer. Nothing like equal rights for dogs would keep us from our coffee. The exception was Kenilworth’s patron saint, who went on being saintly without the café. She had been accustomed to stopping every day and paying for the latte of the unsuspecting and undeserving next person in line; but, with the café closed, she found another object for her charity. The Leatherman got an extra slice of bologna in his sandwich, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat got a better brand of vodka, and the resident saint got busy cleaning the dog shit up from in front of the Dunkin Donuts.

The better brand of vodka for the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had an unforeseen consequence. The good people of Kenilworth had learned to tolerate the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat living by the dumpster of the Epiphany Café, just as they had learned to tolerate the town’s other homeless person, the Leatherman. The Leatherman was easier; he stayed in the town only once in a while as he passed through on his regular circuit through Connecticut and Hudson Valley, New York. The worthy Kenilworthians liked to check their calendars against his unvarying appearance and compete with other towns for who could be more generous. The Leatherman had been at it long enough that he had become an institution. Tales about him had passed from one generation to the next. Father prohibited their sons to chuck stones at him. Mothers sent their daughters to him with flowers. There were feature articles written about him in the newspaper. Even the dogs didn’t bark as he tramped past them from town to town.

The Leatherman was one thing; the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, quite another. As beloved as he had briefly been as a barista at the Epiphany Café, he was still very much a stranger around these parts. Because his hybrid southern-midwestern-western accent had yet to pick up a Connecticut brogue, he didn’t sound like them. With his cowboy hat, he didn’t look like them; and, after a few days living by the dumpster, he didn’t smell like them, either. They barely tolerated him because he kept to himself, out of sight, out back; but, after the Epiphany Café closed and he started drinking a better brand of vodka than they could afford, they got grumpy and began to complain that their home had a problem with homelessness.

With most of the town of Kenilworth hanging out at the Dunkin Donuts with strangers, tourists, passers-by, and others who didn’t know any better, these complaints had an effect they wouldn’t have had if the Epiphany Café was open and the two groups were segregated. Previously, the residents of Kenilworth would only complain amongst themselves till they got it out of their system, and nothing would come of it; but, now, with them complaining in front of the strangers, tourists, and passers-by, with all their potential tourist money and investment capital, it was getting embarrassing. The Town Selectman had to get in the act. He blamed the Town Cop.

If the people of Kenilworth had been citizens, and not just taxpayers, they would have urged the Town Selectman to find a place for the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat to go for rehab; but, with things as they were, rehab was too expensive. A mob began to form at the Dunkin Donuts. Between bites of crullers, the good people of Kenilworth began to talk, not of getting rid of the homeless, but getting rid of the worthless cop. What were they paying their taxes for, if it wasn’t for the Town Cop to harass the homeless that filled their town?

The Drug Dealer, who knew which side of his donut had chocolate frosting, packed up his wares and set out to look for the Town Cop. Because he knew all the hiding spots, he was able to quickly find the cop and tell him that the taxpayers were on the warpath. Get to the dumpster behind the Epiphany Café, he said, and evict the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat and then find the Leatherman and convince him to alter his route, before the taxpayers find a real cop to do your job.

By the time the people of Kenilworth had passed out enough torches and pitchforks to overthrow a dynasty, the Town Cop had the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat in the back seat of his car and was going off to meet the Leatherman before he crossed the town line. He had been sighted in Essex yesterday and could be expected to take up residence at the Kenilworth Burial Ground in two days.

 

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.