Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Binding
© By Jack Bogut

            The two of them couldn’t have been more different. He was tall, square-jawed, slender and gracefully poised over the center of himself. He was also soft spoken, a little bit shy around strangers and disturbingly handsome.
            She, on the other hand, was short, slightly plump, with a round appealing face more cute than pretty.
            His dark hair matched his skin and features and always looked good, even in the wind or the morning.
            Her shock of blond hair seemed always out of place and she pushed at it constantly.
            He could throw on an old sweatshirt and a pair of torn jeans and look like an ad in Gentlemen’s Quarterly. In a coat and tie, he took her breath away.
            She always looked like she was caught in the middle of either dressing or undressing, never totally put together, not physically anyway. Mentally, however,  was another story.
            She was bright and spontaneous almost to a fault. You never knew what to expect from her. You just knew that she was going to say or do something, her face always moving from one expression to another. Plus, there was a fire behind her eyes that snapped and got people’s attention. She was irrepressible—impossible to ignore. The two of them were, at the same time, such a contradiction and yet such a compliment to each other:
            As much as he was shy, she was bold.
            She was given to practical jokes. He was given to being her victim.
            He took care of all the routine things that brought them stability and security.
She did all the small but special things that gave them style.
            These two were radically different puzzle parts that miraculously fit together. In fact, there were only two things that they apparently had in common: both of them were an absolute delight to be around, and each thought the other to be the greatest person on earth.
            That’s why it seemed so unfair, why it was such a shock to all who knew them, when he was killed on his way home from work. It was a grinding multiple-car collision that tied up traffic for over three hours.
            She watched most of it on television in morbid fascination as fire trucks and ambulances arrived on the scene. She felt relief and joy as they got the people out and away from the fire and removed the vehicles one by one. Her heart stopped in her throat when she saw the license plate on the incinerated van. It was theirs!
            The doctor said her husband never knew what hit him, that death had been instantaneous, that he had felt no pain. All she could do was look away and nod her head.
As the doctor turned to leave, she asked if they had recovered her husband’s wallet. The doctor said everything was lost in the fire. She told him that they both had signed donor cards and that she would like to donate any of his organs that could be used. The doctor said he was sure that they could rescue and use his heart.

            A middle-aged man in Philadelphia who had been waiting for a donor-organ for over a year got the good news that night. The new heart was transplanted into his chest in the early morning darkness of the next day. When the man regained consciousness, the first thing he wanted to know was the name of the person whose heart now beat in his chest. His doctor said he would check and see if the family wanted him to know. The answer was, no.
            “But, all I want to do is say thanks!  I wouldn’t bother them ever again if they didn’t want me to!”
            The doctor said he would check again. The answer was still, no.
            A few months later, the man got a call from a young woman who asked how he was doing. He asked her name and she politely but firmly said she’d rather not tell him.
            “Are you, are you by any chance a family member of the person whose
heart...?” He stopped, unable to complete the question, too full of emotion to continue.
            After a long, uncomfortable silence, the young woman answered softly,
            “I’m his wife.”
            “Then don’t…don’t hang up, please!” He pleaded. “Can you tell me anything about him? I’d like to know something about him, about you, about his family…“
             The words didn’t come easily.
            “I…I owe you…“
            Despite the awkwardness of their conversation, a lot of good emotion did pass between them until, finally, he asked for her telephone number. She refused to give it to him but she did say she’d like to call him once in a while to see how he was doing, iif that would be alright? He said it would.
            Each time she called, they talked a little longer and became better acquainted. And each time, he liked her more. She was very warm and funny on the telephone but it was obvious to him that she was keeping the conversation light on purpose. She only got serious when she wanted to know if he was taking care of himself, watching his cholesterol and exercising and getting plenty of rest. He knew what she was asking: if he was taking care of his heart. He assured her that he was.
            And every time they talked, he always asked if they could meet sometime and she always said, politely but firmly, “No!”
            And then she surprised him when she called in early November. Abruptly, in the middle of their usual light banter, she told him,
            “Today would have been our second anniversary.”
             He asked if there was anything, anything he could do for her. She said no and thanked him quietly. Then she asked if there was anything she could do for him? He hesitated for just a moment and decided to seize the opportunity. He told her he would be flying to the mid-west to celebrate thanksgiving with relatives and would have a two-hour layover in her city—could he meet her and say thank you in person?
            “What makes you think I live there?” She asked.
            “I checked my telephone bill. You’ve been calling me from a pay-phone in a supermarket. I know where you live.”
“Humph! I should have known.” She said, with a smile in her voice he could hear. “Well, I guess I don’t have any choice then, do I?”
            He said no and kept up the gentle pressure until she agreed to meet him at the airport. He said he would be the tall, dark-haired, smiling man carrying the heart shaped box of candy. He asked how he would recognize her. She said,
“Never mind, I’ll find you.”
When he got off the plane that day, he stood to the side of the gate looking for her and, hard as he tried, he couldn’t hold on to the smile he’d been wearing all the way up the ramp. He was so full of questions:
            Would she be there?
            Would she reveal herself or just watch him without speaking and leave?
            Would she trust him?
            Would it be a good experience for both of them?
            Or just one of them?
            Which one of them?
            Would she think he was worthy?

            He scanned the people waiting at the gate in front of him and didn’t see her as she approached from behind and to one side. She didn’t say anything. He just felt a gentle touch on his arm and knew that she was there. When he turned and looked at her, they both took a deep, shuddering breath and slowly exhaled. They both compressed their lips and shook their heads as they looked at each other. A casual observer might have thought they had known one another for years. Her eyes filled up and overflowed. And then his.
Finally, as the tension drained from their faces, they both smiled and shook hands. He instinctively wanted to put his arms around her but thought better of it so he just stood there, feeling awkward as a schoolboy.
            “Would you like a cup of coffee or something?” He asked.
            She nodded her head and they walked without speaking to a fast food counter.
             “Black?” He asked as they took a place in line. She nodded again.
“Leaded or unleaded?”
 She smiled and said,”decaf, and I’ll get a table.”
He put the coffee on the table in front of them and stared into his cup. He had lots of questions for her but decided to break the conversational ice by telling her a little about himself. She listened intently and then slowly began to tell him about herself and her husband. Then, in mid-sentence, she looked away and drifted off into silence again.
            “Is there anything I can do for you?” He asked, controlling the urge to reach across the table and touch her hand. “I guess this may be selfish of me, but I really need to say thank you in some way. Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?”
            She just shook her head.
            “Would you like to see how good I feel, how healthy I am? Would you like me to dance a jig? Run up and down the hall? I can do that! I’ve never felt better in my life. And I owe… I don’t know quite what to say.”
            He held his breath as she squared her shoulders, looked him in the eye and tried to speak. It seemed to take forever for her to get the words started:
            “Well, there is one thing you could do that would mean a lot to me, more than you know, something that has been missing from my life, but it’s…but it’s kind of a strange thing to ask!”
            “Anything! Just name it!”
            She took a long, deep breath and with a heavy sigh said,
            “Alright. We’ll have to find a quiet, private place! Just the two of us. I’m really a little embarrassed to ask you to do this.”
            “You name it!” He answered, “How about an Airline Club? I belong to one. That’s fairly quiet and sort of private.” He asked, frankly puzzled but delighted she wanted anything!
            She nodded and they went to the Club where they found a corner away from people and TV. There was a sofa on one wall and two chairs on the other with a coffee table in front.
            “If you’re at all uncomfortable with this, we don’t have to go through with it!” She said quickly, obviously ready to forget the whole thing.
            “Not on your life.” He said. “What do you want me to do?”
            “Would you…would you lie down on your back with your head up there,” she said, pointing to the right end of the sofa, “and your feet down here, and…and close your eyes and not say anything or do anything until I tell you?”
            He nodded his head, sat down on in the middle of the sofa, swiveled around and stretched out full length, his head on the armrest. She watched him from a few steps away.
            “Are you sure you’re comfortable with this?” She asked again.
            He nodded once more, having no idea what she had in mind.
            “Now, would you close your eyes and promise me you won’t move or say anything until I tell you?”
            “I promise.” He said as he closed his eyes and waited.
            Then he heard two, soft footsteps and the gentle rustle of her clothing as she knelt in front of him and laid her head on his chest so that she could listen to his heart.

            After a long moment, she straightened up, squeezed his arm and said with a smile in her voice, “Well it sounds pretty good, nice and strong and healthy. You’d better take care of it! It’s not completely yours, you know!”
            “Oh, I will, I will, he said. “You can count on that.”

            “I know you will.” She said. “Because I know where you live too!”

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Heroes and Rewards
© By Jack Bogut

            Rain hung on the naked trees like jewels, each drop glistening in the street light before falling to the leaves on the ground.  She watched through the window, seeing everything and nothing at the same time. She was only half awake.
            She’d heard the snap in the kitchen when the automatic switch on the coffee pot started the brew but didn’t move until the aroma grabbed her by the nose, pulled her into her rump sprung old bathrobe and down the stairs. Now, the house creaked and groaned as the furnace kicked on and started pumping warm air around her ankles as the stood at the sink.
            Pouring the first cup by fresh brew by Braille, she looked through the window into the yard for the newspaper.  That was part of the routine for her — a cup of hot coffee, the morning paper and then the daily task of trying to awaken those people feigning death under the covers.  She saw what she thought was the red reflector on the paper boy’s bicycle disappearing into the morning mist so she knew it was out there, but where?

            They lived in a house with a big, raised porch on the front, hollow underneath with lattice work around the sides to keep out kids and animals. There was, however, one hole in the barrier and the neighbor dog used to crawl through it and wait.  He’d sneak out silently, belly on the ground, and try to bite a hole in your socks when you walked by. Then he'd run back through the opening and lie there in the dark space, panting, pleased with himself.
            She leaned close to the glass and still couldn’t see the newspaper, so she slipped a raincoat over her pajamas and went out to look for it, padding across the porch in her bare feet, down the steps and onto the lawn, her toes curling up against the wet grass.
             She searched the yard for a few moments and then stopped, bent over, peeked under the porch and looked squarely into shining eyes and panting. Of course, the canine commando, and under one paw was the paper; he was preparing it for breakfast.
            She did everything she could to entice that dog out of there. She stood up and looked around to make sure she was alone, and talked baby talk to the point of embarrassment, got on her hands and knees and barked (this had worked once when he was pup). She even tried insulting him with comments about his intelligence and ancestry, but still he wouldn't come out.
He did wag his tail a few times, dropped the paper once, stuck out his tongue and breathed fast and loud a few times while he drooled on the front page. She didn't know what to do. And then it came to her!

            She stood abruptly, spun on one wet heel, took a few long strides up the steps, across the porch, through the door, made a few blurred, wet tracks on the kitchen floor and smiled as she gently picked up and stroked the family feline.
            When she walked outside, only a breath of air was moving, but it was enough. She took a few steps upwind of the porch and stopped. Rudy, the cat, stiffened in her arms but didn't stop purring until she put him down. Then, as he picked up the sound and the scent of his old instinctive nemesis, he turned rigid, chiseled in stone except for his claws buried deep in the wet turf. The world hung motionless for just as the dog stopped breathing. Then he dropped the paper as he re-focused his eyes and sniffed.
“Cat!” exploded in his brain. A low pitched growl rattled from the dark space.
Rudy dropped the gauntlet with a loud “Meouw!”  Even in the dim light she could see his hind paws dig in as he got ready.
“Help me out, Sweetie,” She said, and the cat took off.

There was a blur from under the porch. The essence of "Dog" hung in the air as the distracted dog lost the race once again and tried in vain to scratch an eighty year old oak tree to the ground. Rudy, perched on a high branch, looked down and yawned.
            She walked over, reached under the porch, got the paper and chased the neighbor dog home. Then she walked to the tree, extended one arm, the cat jumped on her shoulder and they walked back inside.
            She put Rudy on the floor and whispered a “thank you” as he arched his back and stroked her ankle with his tail. And then it came to her:
“Come on, Rudy, I have something special for you.”
 He followed her to the refrigerator and stretched as she opened the door, reached inside and grabbed something.
            Some Caviar, about a tablespoon of it, was left over from a party three days before and she and her husband had been savoring it, carefully, al little at a time. She took the small piece of clear plastic wrap off the dish and sat it down in front of the cat. They looked at each other as the delicate aroma tickled his senses. He ate and purred and she smiled. This was special, and just between the two of them. There'd be questions later about the missing Caviar, and she'd say that it called out to her in the middle of the night and she had no choice.

            There are many kinds of heroes in life, and different kinds of rewards. 

            They all count.

            And it's the little wins that keep us going, day after day.