The clouds are very low.
I am waiting – waiting for them to clear, for the sunshine to warm me, for the warm breeze to laugh with me, for my lover to comfort me.
I wait for Angel to find her way to me.
I wait until there is no color left.
The clouds are very low.
I am waiting – waiting for them to clear, for the sunshine to warm me, for the warm breeze to laugh with me, for my lover to comfort me.
I wait for Angel to find her way to me.
I wait until there is no color left.
I was gasping for breath. What caused this? I thought to myself. It’s that dream, the dream I’m drowning.
Margie and I had a deal. If I got in trouble during the night, I was to wake her.
“What’s up with you?” Angel asked mind to mind, as she alighted on the bed. Angel has been part of my daily life for seven decades, a gift given to me by the Universe. She pops in and out of my day faster than a steam locomotive.
“I’m in serious trouble,” I answered.
“Why don’t you wake her?”
“I know, I know,” I said, becoming more worried as time went on. “It must be the altitude out here, and the stress of the flight, I haven’t been breathing this poorly for years. I didn’t suspect my asthma would be an issue.”
One of the hallmarks of coming from a dysfunctional/abusive childhood home is being independent to a fault. Now my propensity not to ask for help could derail the trip I am so looking forward to.
The rhythm of Margie’s breathing changed.
“Oh no, did I wake her?”
After a long day of walking back and forth to the train station and seeing the sights of the celebration in Ogden, Margie would need a good night’s sleep.
“Get your rescue inhaler!” Angel asserted.
I reached out to the nightstand and found my flashlight, the one with the lanyard, the one I keep especially for this purpose, the purpose of lighting my way in unfamiliar surroundings.
Using my elbows to help me slide to the headboard, I put a pillow behind me and sat up. By this time, I was taking rapid, shallow breaths.
“That kind of breathing must stop, you’ll hyperventilate. Sit on the side of the bed and catch your breath.” I listened to Angel’s gentle guidance; Angel’s my Intuition.
Finding my emergency inhaler on the nightstand, I made several deep inhalations of Albuterol. It wouldn’t take too many minutes for the inhaler’s medicines to work. In the meantime, I formulated the plan: If my normal breathing couldn’t be restored by the inhaler, I would wake Margie, get dressed, and call 911.
In the past, I practiced a regular breathing exercise called `boxing my breath,’ a process of taking in a breath for several seconds, holding my breath, exhaling and holding my breath again, over and over, at least four times. This usually restored my normal rate of breathing.
It is not the lack of air that is the total problem, panic leads to hyperventilation and possibly passing out. I don’t panic easily, or at least I haven’t, despite the many difficult adverse experiences of my past. I pride myself on this.
Pride goes before the fall.
I don’t do well alone – especially at night, I never have. My recently acquired adult asthma added another layer to my nightly discomfort and convinced me that I needed help from those I love and trust. No more macho-superman stuff for me.
Carefully rising from the bed, I steadied myself against the wall and made my way into the bathroom.
I closed the bathroom door and turned on the light. Finding my long-acting cortisone spray, I took two deep puffs and held my breath to the count of ten after each one.
These are miracle drugs, I thought to myself. Within moments my breathing became less labored.
“Who is this man?” I said out loud to Angel who was standing beside me as I looked into the vanity mirror. I always wondered if the person I saw in the mirror was really me. Looks are always so deceptive.
“It’s you, don’t worry you’ll be fine. I am with you. Believe in me, you are loved.”
Although I could not see Angel, I felt her presence. I sat on the toilet lid. My breathing slowed and my lightheadedness passed. I turned out the light and quietly opened the bathroom door and made my way back to bed. Sitting upright, I listened for Margie. Her breathing rhythm seemed normal. I sat up for an hour; for you see, remnants of the nightmare are still flooding through my veins and now I am in what I call ‘the zone,’ an in-between area, the nightmare and the real world. And I ask myself, which is the worse of two evils – a night without sleep or a double nightmare night.
After 60 long minutes, I felt better, rolled flat and fell asleep.
Peg was not up to this trip, she wished to stay home. How interesting could a restored sixty-year-old steam locomotive be? Although Peg and I have done everything together, this trip to Ogden, UT, was more than her age and infirmities would comfortably allow.
Peg suggested I ask Margie to go with me for company, and to help me with the fall-out from my frequent and violent nightmares. We have known Margie for ten years; she is younger than I, and in good health. Her presence on the trip would be greatly appreciated. I would pick up all the expenses, the trip would not cost Margie any money; she was doing me the favor.
I met Margie through a close friend who knew that I struggled with my past. With a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Social Work, for over thirty years, Margie has worked with people from dysfunctional, abusive situations. Because of her background, she was perfect for me. Slowly, trust grew via frequently exchanged emails and talking on the phone. Her understanding of the effects of child abuse on a man’s mental health kept me close to her.
If Margie decided the trip was not for her, I would not go. That would have been a great disappointment to me. A complete restoration of a steam locomotive of this size had never been attempted before and this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
4014 is the largest steam locomotive in the world to be restored to full working condition. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I read the locomotive would come out of restoration and be on public display in Ogden, UT in May 2019.
4014 would arrive in Ogden to help with the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the hammering of the Golden Spike, joining the east and west railroads at Promontory Point.
Originally, I made my initial request to Margie by phone; she suggested I come over for tea to explore the idea in greater detail. She had not completely ruled out going, however, steam locomotives were not a big interest to her.
Margie might go as a special favor to Peg and me. I was hoping she would find interesting things to do in Ogden while I was busy viewing the train. I am too young to stop going to interesting places and events.
I had to admire Margie’s spunk in considering spending four days in the company of a man she didn’t know all that well.
Margie said she would go online to the Union Pacific site and look at the events planned for that special weekend in Ogden. To my surprise, after doing some research, she seemed enthusiastic about the trip – the walkable town, and the celebration fair.
There was one big decision for the two of us to make, the sleeping accommodations.
The purpose of Margie going was not only for the companionship, but also to help me in the middle of the night, which would not work unless I could book a suite with two separate but connecting sleeping areas. If I got in trouble, Margie would throw me a lifeline.
This was to be a pleasure trip, a good night’s sleep in a nice hotel was part of my plan.
“Okay, I’ll go,” Margie had said.
“See there,” Angel said. “Everything always works out if you believe it will.” That’s why I love Angel and why she was always nearby.
The next morning in the Ogden hotel coffee shop
“I heard you last night. Why didn’t you get me up?” Margie’s concern was evident in the caring way she asked the question.
“I should have, I have trouble asking for help, but you know that.”
“That’s why I am here. Tell me about it, don’t hold back.”
“Well, let me sit for a bit and sip my coffee.”
It is said somewhere in the many readings I have that if a man is to be happy he should have a Vision.
As it is with all inspirational sayings, this one may not be true for me.
I had Visions, a couple of times – I am glad I did. They helped me get through life to the productive and yes, happy place I am now.
Presently, things are different for me. I am still on the Journey, but I have no particular destination, unless I consider the ultimate Earthly destination that we all have, Death, which will come at its own pace.
No, I am free of striving. Free from awaking in the morning with a list of activities I must accomplish to get ahead.
I am allowing the winds of fate to propel my craft to a suitable but unknown destination.
This is called Faith.
Faith comes to me as one of the gifts of Grace I received from the Universe.
I am in possession, or perhaps I am possessed, by an Angel. Angel is my Orenda, my spiritual power, my guide, my intuition. The Iroquois believe we all have Orenda, a spiritual power. Everything animate or inanimate possess Orenda.
I have chosen to use my Orenda and believe in my spiritual powers.
Because of my faith in the Universes special power, Orenda, I no longer have to invest my daily life in a vision. I have the Orenda to complete my Journey All I need is to sail my little craft, taking directions from Angel, which will lead me to my understanding and spiritual knowledge.
The Universe, through Angel, has given me the voice to explain my connection with the natural world, its power over me and my power over it. I do this through my writing – my voice, my Orenda.
Western Union will pause for an intermission. While you are waiting for the next chapter of Western Union you are invited to read the first chapter of Book Two, Journey to Save the Mind
The Super Chief
I got to the Dearborn station early before anyone connected with the filming arrived. The Santa Fe management had given me the time and a special pass allowing me to participate in the filming of a commercial featuring the advantages of train travel with the next generation of modern passenger cars and the diesel-powered engines.
The Santa Fe thought the combination of the brand-new lightweight Budd Corporation stainless-steel passenger cars and the powerful and clean General Motors EMD Corporation streamlined diesel engines would convince people to take the train and ride in unparalleled style and luxury of the new modern era of passenger train travel.
The Super Chief was an extra fare All Pullman Streamliner. Native American colors such as turquoise and copper were featured on the interior intertwined with striking exotic wood trim. The Super Chief’s classic ‘Warbonnet’ exterior design featured sweeping red and yellow lines against the stainless-steel background of the engine and cars. Additionally, the engine had a large dramatic Santa Fe herald emblazoned in wraparound fashion across its gracefully aero-dynamically slanted nose.
A large, lighted drumhead with the Santa Fe logo was affixed to the sweeping curve end of the observation car. The entire train was one brilliantly executed design of the age of modernism: A functional, rolling work of art.
I caught a ride in the cab of the terminal diesel switcher out to the ready track where 3751 sat simmering after being serviced from the Los Angeles run the day before. My train of the old-style heavyweight passenger cars had been cleaned and was coupled on behind the engine and tender. Right away I could see the stark contrast between my old train and the new modern passenger train fleet. My train seemed dated and old fashioned; and then I wondered – was I dated and old fashioned? What would be the ‘transportation of choice’ for the woman who was quickly stealing my heart, Theodora?
As I approached the slumbering engine, I never believed the company would invest so much money in making 3751 shine like new once again.
“I heard you,” Angel shouted over the roar of the conflagration in the firebox.
“I didn’t say it out loud,” I replied as I mounted the ladder to the vestibule of the cab.
“No matter, I could hear your thoughts. Yeah, they pulled out all the stops.”
I looked at Angel incredulously and hoped she didn’t know about the dream I had last night about Theodora sleeping in my arms.
“Yummy, Big Boy, maybe we can perform the same bed-tricks when this movie is through?”
“Good grief,” I replied, “is nothing sacred with you?”
“Only the stuff that happens between you and I. No one would believe that anyway, so I’m safe,” Angel retorted.
She was right, what went on between Angel and I would always remain our secret.
“I see you have the train orders Mr. Engineer, my movie star, mister engineer movie star. I don’t want you sharing your body with any other women until this movie is over, it’s too important for you and the railroad. Besides you have your widow, she would love to be in love, with a real movie star.”
Reality came down hard on me: I have a job, responsibilities to my company, my kids and the memories of my dear departed wife. And perhaps even the attention of a good practical woman who would share my retirement years.
I am just too conservative. However, the idea of being involved with a movie star, and having a boy to raise was very appealing. What-the-heck, other men I knew had women on the side, or much younger wives after their first mate’s passing. Why couldn’t I?
Angel shook her head, “Heartbreak Hotel!”
She was right, again. “Angel, I can’t find my way back from my past life and wife – farming part time, occasional train trips, locking ourselves in the bedroom when we needed private time and hearing the kids holler,`What’s bangin’ up against the wall?'” I moaned, “I want it all back.”
“Soon,” Angel said with conviction. “Let’s steam this loco up and move the train into position. The work will ease your mind for a while. Then, after, you can lay with me and we can make sense of it all.”
The train orders had us backing the empty old-style passenger cars into the station on Track One. Facing out on Track Two, I was to park 3751 next to a brand-new diesel engine: The future of modern train travel – powerful and economical, clean and able to travel long distances without service.
Contrasting the old steam-powered passenger train with the new modern diesel-powered train, the railroad hoped that the film would take ridership away from the increasing competition of the private automobile and the airlines.
The railroads marketing department told me Theodora had requested me to be the engineer on both locomotives; Theodora and Timmy would be the first passengers on the inaugural diesel run from Chicago to Los Angeles. The real life ‘Train of the Stars.’
There was little room to spare at the track ends. I had no doubt in my mind I would be able to ease the train into exactly the right spot and make sure both engines would be even with each other within inches. By design, the trains were set up to be the same length, give or take a foot.
I had to move forward on the ready-track and take the switches, which would place our train on Track One.
Angel had the steam pressure up to the required two hundred thirty pounds. We sat and waited for the track signal to turn green. Precisely at the stipulated time, we received the green signal light. I started the bell ringing and whistled the customary blast for a train moving forward, then released the brakes and applied steam. Our train moved slowly forward and we wound our way through the serpentine of the station-tracks until we were on Track One. I could see the conductor from my side. He gave us the hand signal indicating we had cleared the switches. I gave an acknowledging blast on the whistle. We stopped, waiting for the signal allowing us to back into the station.
Soon the conductor at the rear of the train gave us the go-ahead to reverse. I made the reverse whistle signal and started the reverse move. We drifted slowly backward into the station. I slowly applied engine brakes, allowing the passenger cars to stretch out the slack for a more comfortable jolt-free start when it came time to go. I set the train brakes and the engine brakes and gave one last long mournful whistle blast. Our train had stopped on Track One, perhaps for the last time.
We sat motionless, adjacent to Engine #11, the future of modern locomotives. The second generation of General Motors diesel streamliners consisted of 2 back to back engines, Units E1a and E1b, the latter without a cab. Combining the two engines created a powerful unit of 3600 continuous horsepower, sufficient to pull the Super Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles for the entire 1700 mile trip without fuel stops, a savings of time and money for passengers and the railroad.
On the platform, there was a stir of activity between the two trains. I rose from my seat, but not until once more making sure the train and engine brakes were firmly applied and the steam reverse gear was in neutral and the throttle closed. I walked back on the footplate and stood in the doorway of the cab between the engine and tender.
At that moment I saw her, Theodora, the woman of my dreams. A sharp pang of desire flooded my body and ended up squarely in my groin, an ever-insistent reminder that my interest in her had only begun.
“Be careful Big Boy, you are headed for one big heap of trouble,” my know-it-all wing mate said in an altogether too loud of a remark, which made me jolt out of my erotic dream. “Shape up, here comes the press.”
Following closely behind Theodora and her son was an entourage of people of various job descriptions: Donna, (Theodora’s confidant), Theodora’s agent, the movie producer, marketing people, attorney’s, and what I like to call ‘the hanger-on-ers.’ Behind them I recognized the president of the railroad and his staff, our marketing people, an army of attorney’s and the press. It was a tidal wave of folks, all with their fingers in the pie of me and my starlet’s life.
Just to make matters worse for my already fragile self-esteem, behind all of them was none other than Bucky Armbruster, holding the arm of the widow.
Angel let out a gasp, “Oh no!”
(To be continued….)
“Where’s Timmy?” Donna inquired, sitting in Theodora’s bedroom suite on the train.
Theodora made eye contact with the movie studio liaison; originally Donna was hired to keep her in check but in the meantime, they had become friends and really there was no need, Theodora knew how to walk the walk and talk the talk. “Reba has him in her compartment, he’s playing with his trains. Timmy brought his wind-up engine, freight cars and track in a separate suitcase. I swear he would take the trains to bed with him if I would let him.”
“I’m keen-bean that you brought Reba along, she’s been a big help in minding Timmy while you deal with the press and, I must say, your stardom.”
Theodora laughed at Donna’s slang. “Reba loves him. She doesn’t know if she will ever have children. She and Harvey keep trying, they are spending money they don’t have to visit specialists, no luck. When she minds Timmy, I get a break and she gets to be around a child she always wanted. Luckily, I have the money to be able to hire her, it’s good for both of us.” Theodora took several deep breaths.
“What’s the matter Teddy?” Donna spoke tenderly with concern in her voice.
“It’s Gerald. He isn’t sleeping with me.”
“Yikes! It’s a big compartment, where does he sleep, in the trundle?”
“Hilarious. You know Gerald must be sleeping with Clark. I am only a convenience, to lend the allusion of propriety. I stay with him because there is so much potential in this new movie role.
“But I don’t want Timmy to grow up around these show people, especially now that there are producers who insist actresses audition nude for ‘Boudoir scenes.’ I want him to lead a real man’s life, a spiritual life, with a regular job and then marry the right girl. He loves trains and the railroad. If he wants to be a railroad engineer, then that’s what I want for him.”
“What if he wants to become an artist or a writer? Surely you wouldn’t object.”
“Oh please, not the artistic world, I am learning to hate it.”
“What are you saying? You made a fortune in the movies and the money is good for the both of you, especially Timmy. You’ll be able to afford a great education for him at a private school, which would also get him away from your work.”
“I won’t send him away to boarding school. When this film is done, I’ll take time off and live with Timmy some place honest and good, maybe farm country. Or get a ranch, a place where I can work outside in the fresh air and get dirty.” Theodora’s large brown eyes filled with tears, “Not the filth of my past.”
“Teddy?” Donna’s eyes opened wide.
“My past is a well-kept secret,” Theodora adjusted her thick, curly, shoulder-length auburn hair. “A year out of high school, Raymond Anderson discovered me and got me into films. Raymond and his wife Louise, took me off the street and gave me a head start. I owe them a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. They were the perfect couple, kind and generous, perfect role models. My secret died with them in the airplane crash a few years ago.”
“Are you sure you want me to know?” Donna asked holding her hand to cover her mouth, as if to keep anyone from hearing.
Theodora dismissed her question with what Donna referred to as the ‘Queen’s wave.’ “Do you know why I picked Theodora as my screen name?”
“Theodora!” Donna exclaimed. “Movie-goers love it and everyone at the studio thinks it’s a great selling point, ‘Theodora, Theodora,’ they say. You are in all the headlines as Theodora, I just thought it was your given name. Come to think of it, you don’t ever use your surname. Why? I only know you as Theodora or now that we are close, as Teddy.”
Adjusting her already correct posture, Theodora explained, “I don’t know my father’s identity. For that matter, I never knew my mother, she died an alcoholic’s death shortly after my birth. I was raised by my aunt, a good woman, but she didn’t know how to care for me. Not her fault, I was trouble from the beginning. I don’t belong here in this world, something went wrong, very wrong. My aunt made up my surname for the birth certificate. The doctor knew something wasn’t right but she told him my father was killed in a construction accident. Davis, yes Davis, forged in deceiving black ink onto my birth records. My given name is Madeline, Madeline Davis, nice isn’t it?”
Theodora lifted her chin, a picture perfect pose. “My uncle used me. He started on me early; my aunt didn’t know. When my uncle found me alone, he would come after me. While he held me down, he whispered that what we did together was real love. But my soul knew differently. I would go to another place; I just left my body to him and entered a dream world where I became a beautiful and loving princess. Then when my periods started, he finally left me alone, but there was no love, never was.”
Donna intentionally kept quiet, listening and watching this 25 year old star revert back to a habit she only did in private, raising her left hand to her beautiful face and using the back of her fingers to brush lightly along her cheek.
“I was troubled all through school,” Theodora said. “A devil on my shoulder made me flirt with all the boys, I couldn’t get enough attention and earned the nickname, `Slutty.’ ‘Hey slutty, whatcha’ doing tonight?’ None of those boys ever stuck around and the good girls ignored me.
“History class was my lifeline and where I first learned about ‘Theodora and Justinian,’ lovers on a grand scale. After class, I would go to the library and look up everything I could find about them. She was a stagehand who ascended first to the stage and then as a courtesan, known as ‘the dregs of the army.’ The original Theodora had unbounded sexual energy, then unaccountably, she changed and settled into a modest house near the emperor’s palace and made her living spinning wool. Justinian saw her, she was very beautiful, young and intelligent, he fell in love with her. He used all his royal powers to have her become his wife and had her crowned, `Augusta.’ They shared Imperial power; I wanted to be her, so I took her given name.”
“Oh, bananas Teddy! I won’t say doodly-squat but it’s difficult to keep a juicy secret in Hollywood.”
It was as if Theodora never heard her. “After high school I did menial labor at a hotel in Los Angeles,” she continued. “I took on paying men, married men, almost every night. They knew if they revealed my secret I would get even, I had too much on them, all the dirty little secrets, the petty jealousies.
“Then, I had three men in the same night, all of them together with me in the same room. They said they were starting a new kind of film industry – Adult Art Film’s. I would become a star. The movies would be sensual and artistically done. I bought into their idea and that night was to be an audition. Instead, they filmed as they raped and beat me, took my money and left me there alone, crying in my own blood.
“That’s when I changed, instantly overnight, a divine intervention; I was not going back to that old life. By then I was 18 and had worked my way up at the hotel, and Raymond encouraged me to audition for a part in a movie he was producing, a musical. He needed a wholesome looking girl, I was good at it. Raymond offered me more parts, then as if in a dream, I became Theodora, Theodora the movie star.”
However, when she was 20, Theodora had a brief relapse and got pregnant; Raymond and his wife Louise gave her an ultimatum: amend her ways or the studio would drop her. “One last chance at respectability. I grew up instantly knowing I could never forgive myself if I let them down again.”
Theodora confronted the man she suspected was Timmy’s father, to no avail. “Raymond and Louise made sure the sensationalism of my being an unwed mother didn’t get out of hand with the tabloids. Funny, in a way it was good for my career, other women in the same situations wanted to know more about me and began to flock to the movies that I had roles in.”
Hoopin’ and hollerin’ sounds drifted in from the nearby parlor, “I don’t want Timmy to find out about my past. I have got to find a way of protecting him.”
“Teddy, do you have a plan? How will you break with Gerald? It’ll be all over the newspapers.”
“I don’t care, neither will Gerald, he’ll be glad to be rid of me, I’m just excess baggage now. After the last film, he made a great deal of money and this one looks like it will be even bigger. He wants to take his money and move overseas, he says European’s will be more understanding of his lifestyle.”
Donna shifted gears and told Theodora that following shooting the remainder of their current musical in Chicago, the studio and the railroad were going to film a commercial about the advantage of train travel across the country versus the airlines. ‘The Modern World of Train Travel,’ would feature one of the new diesel engines on the `Super Chief` as it departs for Los Angeles. “The studio wants to feature you and Timmy as well as an engineer.”
“I wonder,” Theodora smiled, “maybe the same engineer Timmy and I saw a few months ago in Lamy?”
“Uh, oh Teddy, do I see a gleam in your eye?”
“I have a soft spot for fatherly men,” Theodora leaned forward. “And Donna, when I looked into the cab of that engine in Lamy, I could have sworn I saw a real angel. Timmy too because he said, ‘Mommy, an angel just winked at me!’ I think it was a sign.”
“Time to head for the observation car and get lunch,” Donna shook her head, motioning towards the door. “I’ll check on Timmy and Reba, you go ahead and find a place for us. At least you can have some time to dream, watch the miles go by and hope for a better destination.”
I caught sight of Angel as she stepped out of the doorway of the crew shack. She was immaculately attired in her very clean, newly pressed overalls. She had on a red engineers cap emblazoned with yellow polka-dots, but on closer inspection, were actually embroidered little yellow hearts. Her red bandanna loosely hung around her neck and over the bib of her overalls. Freshly shined brown work boots finished off her ensemble.
She headed straight down the side of the roadbed which, leading down from the coaling facilities, was always dirty with unburned coal and clinkers left from hurriedly cleaned fire boxes. There were also large puddles of oil and standing water from the overflow of the tenders when they were carelessly filled. It amazed me she was able to stay so clean – Jiminy Cricket! she fired a steam locomotive – but she did, and now I knew the secret: Angel levitated over all of the mess, without stepping in any of it because, after all, she is an angel.
This would be our last trip together in this locomotive 3751. Soon I would be in command of one of the brand-new diesel ‘E’ units, which would be on the front end of all the ATSF Super Chief passenger trains. I was blessed to have her as my fireman through the years of steam, now she would join me operating the new wave of railroading.
She came alongside of the cab without looking up to acknowledge me. I saw directly down on her delightful head and shoulders, the same parts of her body I was recently caressing while we lay in bed. She was singing a little tune, oblivious of my presence above her in the cab window.
At the rear of the cab, she turned and mounted the ladder up to the footplate between the cab and the tender. Swinging herself in and around the back wall of the cab, she stepped to my side and holding my head in her gloved hands she sang a little verse, “Whatcha got cookin’ good lookin’?”
“Wow,” I proclaimed. “You could make a hit song out of those lyrics.”
“Maybe I will when you retire in a few years.”
“The Hosteler left us here on the `Ready Track,` they didn’t have the room down near the station. When I got the briefing and manifest, I saw that it’s a really long train this morning. In a few minutes, we’ll have to back down and couple on,” I said staring out the cab window trying to mask my thoughts of the ‘human’ women I wished were in my life.
“Not only long,” she replied. “Heavy too, there are several sleepers, and three baggage cars, not to mention the additional REA cars up front. I hear there’s a film crew from Los Angeles, they are going to film a movie in Chicago, a musical about the old prohibition days. She’s the star.”
“You mean the starlet with the little boy, the one we saw a few months ago? Is she on the train?”
“Yep, in the last car, the vista dome observation with the VIP suite and she’s with that big-time movie producer the tabloids are making all the fuss about.”
“How do you know these things?”
“I know them, that’s all, I just know things. Her little boy wants to see the engine again, they will probably stop by at Lamy.” I could see the excitement and the confusion in his eyes. He so wanted to see that woman again. I could almost tell he was rising up.
“Well, let’s drift on down then,” he said.
“Okay baby, I’ll get up some steam and straighten out that fire. Doesn’t anyone know how to lay a good fire anymore? By the way you were in pretty good form last night. Do you like that trick I showed you?”
“Oh, be quiet. I can’t think straight after a night like that, I think there is a rule against it – eight hours from body to throttle!”
I raked the fire and started the stoker, so I could throw coal way back into the corners. The pressure came up, I sensed a good healthy fire going.
I saw him turn on the tender backup light and start the bell ringing. He turned and faced backward out the cab window. Releasing the engine brake, he moved the power reverse lever to reverse position. There was a hiss of steam from the mechanism. Without looking he reached behind him and found the throttle; cracking it open slightly we moved slowly, drifting back down the track to the waiting train.
He knew automatically where the rear of the tender was, it was a very big tender. He told me once he counted the railroad ties below the cab as a way of judging the distance. The train supervisor had positioned a man at the head of the REA car where we coupled on and with hand signals, he was able to show how far the couplers of the car and tender were apart.
Slowing the engine to a crawl the inches went by, without the slightest bump the couplers came together and latched solidly into each other. The train supervisor gave the sign to pull ahead and test the security of the connection.
He moved the reverse lever, it was just enough to allow the engine to pull forward and take the slack out of the connection. A sign was given, one of the workmen attached the air hoses from the tender to the train line. With that sign for the brake test, my engineer let air into the train line while carefully taking up the slack in the train.
It was done, all done, we were now one big long train. Other than the crew, no one else would have noticed the ballet that was going on to make us one.
I noticed he took the same care in his lovemaking. Carefully attending to all the little details. It gave me the shivers to see the dance unfold once again, this time with a behemoth passenger train but somehow, all the same, all about caring.
We sat there listening to the hiss of the escaping steam from all the various mechanisms that allowed an engine like this to function as a unit.
I stepped up beside him and cupped my arms around his shoulders.
“Did you see her this weekend? The widow at the Grange Hall?”
“Yes, I went to the Grange for the roast beef dinner, she was there. I sat across from her.”
“And, and then what?” I asked with great anticipation. Never in my dreams would I have believed he would make the first move.
“I said hi,” he replied rather pensively. “Do you think I started the conversation off okay? I mean, I didn’t know what else to say.”
“You did fine, yes, terrific, a very honest way to start a conversation. What did she say?”
“She said, ‘You must be a little lonely with Claire being gone. Why don’t you come over to my place this Sunday at noon? I can bake an apple pie, we can have pie and ice cream. I mean if you’re free and all. I mean, I don’t know what I mean except I would like that.’ Yes, I would like it too and hoped that she wouldn’t see me blushing, I could hardly speak my legs went numb.”
“And then, then what happened?” I asked over and over again.
“Then! Then! Bucky Armbruster busted in and plopped down right beside her and started telling her how much money he made at The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, trading butter futures last week.”
“Ah, oh,” I hope the widow wasn’t going to fall for all that money. I couldn’t help it, I just blurted out, “You mean the Bucky Armbruster, Robert Wayne Buckwalter Armbruster the third? Do you know him? Personally?”
“Cut it out,” he said in an irritated voice. “I’ve known him since grade school, that big overgrown lout. There’s nothing special about him, we all put our pants on the same way.”
“Well maybe not all you men put your pants on the same way.”
“What?” He was getting more irritated as the conversation wore on.
“I am just foolin’ with you Honey Bun. Remember what happened this morning? You got flustered and put your shorts on backwards!” Hoping to change the subject from this morning’s romp, I asked, “What went on at the table after Bucky arrived?”
“Bucky started telling stories about how his businesses were so successful. Just talking out loud to the table in general. All the people at our end of the Grange Hall could hear him. Not only was he loud, he’s fat. You should see his gut hanging over that five-inch belt buckle, I thought his chair would collapse from under him.”
“You’re not jealous, about the money?” I asked demurely, trying not to laugh out loud at the description of Bucky my man was giving me.
He sighed, “No, I know what I am up against. I’m getting older and a good woman is going to need some other man, younger, with a future, not just a pension.”
I felt him slump down in his seat, as if he was succumbing to the weight of the world around him.
“How did the meal go afterwards?”
“During the time that Bucky was spouting off, the widow glanced at me and said in a low voice, ‘I hate to leave you with that oaf, but I have the ladies quilting bee in a few minutes. You just never mind about him and come over on Sunday for that apple pie, we can have a good laugh.’ Then she patted the top of my hand and I nearly fell apart, you know, from the strain of losing Claire, and the possibility of a new relationship. I’m so grateful I have you, Angel, I don’t know what I would do without your direction.”
We sat there, just sat, while he regained his composure.
“It’s getting to be time to go.”
I turned and took my seat on the fireman’s side.
“All aboard. All aboard,” I heard the call and checked the steam pressure: 230 pounds with plenty of water.
He gave two blasts on the whistle and we moved with great precision out of the station.
Since we were underway, I made up my mind to sit in the spare seat behind him and just hold his hand and I pondered, if you have ever wondered why steam engine whistles seem so forlorn, it is because of all the loves gained and lost while working on the railroad.
Glancing over, I saw him reach into the top pocket of his overalls and produced a pocket watch, securely attached to a button hole in the bib of his overalls by a gold-toned copper alloy chain with a Masonic medallion on the end.
He consulted the time. “It’s three-o-two, we will leave in 8 minutes,” he proclaimed, still in the pensive mood he had been in all morning.
The watch was large as pocket watches go, given to him by his father ten years ago as a gift when he was appointed a Railroad Engineer. He was the third family member to have the watch; in the late 1880’s, his grandfather was the original owner. Now, both father figure’s were gone. His wife gone; his mother was ill; a great many losses for a man with time left.
Housed in a thick gold case engraved in relief, with a picture of a stag and doe emerging from the forest into the bright sunlight of a meadow, the watch was his pride and joy; within contained all the memories of what little senior family he had left.
The watch seemed to exist on its own, an individual entity, and would live on and go to others when he was gone. In this way the memories of his ‘tribe’ would be preserved.
In a moment of intimacy between us, he had explained that in this life, he didn’t really ‘own’ anything, everything was ‘on loan’ to him, to be passed on to others when he made his final trip with me.
He turned and leaned out of the cab window, placing his full upper body weight onto his forearms, his right leg curled under him on the seat, his left leg out behind him braced by his foot on the back-head. He leaned out the window as far as he could to get a clear view of the train behind him. His train, the train he commanded responsibly, as was his job.
Normally at this time his eyes would be on the senior conductor, waiting for the all-aboard signal, which would give him the go-ahead to leave the station.
I knew what was really on his mind. He was looking for her, the one who had captured his heart in an instant that afternoon here in Lamy, one month ago.
I studied him, he did not know how carefully I was considering him. His overalls were clean. His boots, although old, were kept in good shape by frequently replacing the soles and heels. He meticulously maintained the uppers, now partially hidden by the legs of his overalls fastened around the top of the boots by a leather garter, a fashion that would keep stray hot coals from getting inside his boots.
“Are we ready?” I questioned, knowing the answer full well. I had already topped off the boiler with water a few moments ago and the water had stopped flowing from the injector, leaving on my side of the roadbed only a steam-filled puddle.
The temperature and pressure in the boiler were back up to the levels I needed for a fast departure.
“All the conductors are standing in the vestibules and no one is left on the platform,” he said peaking around behind him. I could hear him over the thump, thump of the steam-powered air compressor and the whine of the generator on the boiler just outside the cab.
He consulted his watch again and compared his time with the master clock on the Western Union wall, scrupulously maintained by wire every hour. Time, which flowed through the wires hung on telegraph poles that lined the right-of-way. Time, which ultimately was regulated by the expansion of the universe, a recently considered wisdom by his contemporary, Albert Einstein.
Because once again, our country was growing quite fast, the Great Depression had come to an end, expansion was the order of the day. The telegraph poles supported more wires, sometimes as many as twenty pairs, all tied securely around the blue glass insulators on every cross arm.
Electrically transmitted information at the speed of light simultaneously streamed into every station in the country; a precursor of what was to come. Already telephone wires were strung along the same poles below the telegraph wires and would soon displace the mechanical telegraph communications with a human voice.
I heard the lead conductor’s voice ring out across the platform.
My engineer turned and nodded to me.
I was ready.
He toggled the air valve to the engine bell, which rang out censoriously. He applied the sander, momentarily spraying sand onto the rails ahead of the locomotive wheels.
He reached up and pulled the whistle cord, two long blasts, which meant we were on our way.
“High Ball!” he stated loudly. “I’ve got the High Ball.” His voice was filled with emotion, I saw tears run down his cheeks; he was trying to outrun the losses that had accumulated, one after another, much too soon.
“It will come to you. Don’t get discouraged,” the voice on the other end of the line stated. “Such a beautiful puzzle, two thousand pieces. It is a work of art; just like you, a work of art.”
At that moment I didn’t feel like a work of art, not anything close. My drinking was getting to my health. My marriage had fallen apart; I was estranged from my children. I was terribly depressed; thoughts of taking my own life accompanied me everywhere.
“But, but, all I want is a puzzle to take my mind off my life,” I stammered.
“Yep, how it’s designed,” the voice on the other end of the phone proclaimed. “You’ll catch the hang of it.”
“There is no picture, just a plain, grey paper box, not even instructions,” I said in an irritated voice.
“Give it a chance. Take the first step, open-the-box,” came the reply. “But I have to ride the sound waves now, another troubled man is on the other line.”
“Who are you?” I asked sharply into the handset.
“I’m God. Gotta go.” The line went silent.
I sat there with the dead phone in my ear.
You see, I am very troubled, I am very ill. The prognosis for my recovery is poor. I see why they take their lives, I thought to myself. If I keep going like this I will end up dead, just like the other men, the other survivors of child abuse.
However, the answer to my recovery came to me in a dream. A lovely carefree dream. A dream of flying with angels. I was to buy a puzzle and assemble it. Not any puzzle mind you. A specific puzzle, from a specific source.
In the dream I saw myself reading the newspaper where a small ad in the classified section stated: ‘Free puzzle specifically designed to release your cares. Completing this puzzle will change your life for the better. Guaranteed!’
For me, the `guaranteed` part cinched the deal.
The next morning, I stepped outside and recovered the newspaper from the bushes where the cruel paper boy threw it. The disheveled newspaper had fallen open to a page of advertisements and there prominently displayed in the middle was the ad from my dream.
Try this puzzle free. You can pay me later.
Staring at the ad in disbelief I uttered, “Oh hell, maybe there is something to my puzzle-dream.”
After the morning chores I made out an envelope and sent away for the puzzle. I put it out of my mind and entered back into my old pre-dream space – nightmares, alcohol, and depression.
A week later the postman delivered a package to me. The puzzle.
Ripping off the packaging, I opened the box. Two thousand pieces were enclosed in a clear plastic bag. I cut the bag open with the scissors I kept in my desk drawer and laid out the Masonite board I used for assembling puzzles and poured the pieces onto the center of the board.
I am confronted with the disconcerting fact that all the pieces are blank – on both sides. I reached for the phone and called God. A recorded message from the phone company indicated: ‘The number you have dialed is not in service.’
There has to be a way.
Sifting through the pile I withdrew all the pieces that had a straight edge. Four of the two thousand pieces looked like corners; I laid them out on the board in a manner that marked a large rectangle about the same shape as the unmarked box.
Some of the straight-edged pieces seemed to fit together. I attempted assembling the puzzle sides. Progress was slow. I saw the puzzle was cut by a machine where the characteristics of cutting them left the pieces with a top-side and a bottom-side. I flipped all the pieces over until all of them were arranged on the board top-side up.
Becoming discouraged with the enormity of the task, I pushed back my chair, and paced the floor. Sinking again into a fit of depression I reached for the gin bottle, which was secretly stored in the back of a kitchen cabinet. For once in my life I thought the better of it; instead I went outside and took a walk.
I had been on the walk for an hour and it was becoming dark; I turned and walked back to my cabin and went to bed.
In the dead of the night an angel appeared by my bed. I was frightened, but she was beautiful; her countenance disarmed me and I forgot my fear.
“I see you got the puzzle God told you about. Good going, I am proud of you, you are on the way to a better life.”
The angel spoke in a tender, lilting voice, almost musical, sheer poetry and very comforting. I will never forget her voice.
I really need a better life, I thought to myself. I sure screwed this one up.
“Agreed,” the angel said. “You have some big problems, they are not insurmountable, the puzzle will show you the way.”
“Who are you? Who sent you? Why are you here in my dreams?”
“I am your Guardian Angel, I have been sent to you by the Universe as a messenger, I supply your intuition. I give comfort to the abused.”
“What do you know about my abuse?”
“I know everything about your abuse; I have been with you from the beginning. You do not really know about your abuse, which is why you are so troubled. Once you understand what happened, you will be able to move on and fulfill your destiny, a destiny of love.”
“Why didn’t you come to me before? What took you so long, can’t you see I’m suffering?” I asked plaintively.
“I came to you many times; you were so troubled you didn’t hear me. I heard your cries for help. I persisted. Many never hear me, they become lost. You may be different. I don’t know. You’re worth a try. This is your time, you finally hear me, we are talking. Now, complete the puzzle or be lost forever – your choice.”
My dream ended.
Upon awakening, I poked my right forearm and found to my surprise I was among the living. I got up, dressed, had a coffee, and walked over to the desk. I stared blankly at the puzzle board.
At least I have the four corners and some of the parts of the sides assembled. What did the angel mean when she said that it’s time for me to complete the puzzle?
The phone rang and startled me out of my funk.
“Hello,” I answered, not really engaged in the call.
“Hi there, this is God. I see you met Angel and started the puzzle. Wow, she is a hottie and whew, doesn’t wear any clothes. Way over the top. If you survive your past you may not survive her!”
“God, it’s you again. The phone company said your line was disconnected.”
“Yeah, I had a big response to the puzzle ad and had to shut down that operation. You got some of the pieces together I see and figured out which sides of the pieces represent the top surface. Wow, Way To Go, you are on your way to assembling the biggest puzzle of your lifetime. It is going to change your life for the good. That is, if sleeping with that Angel doesn’t kill you first.” God guffawed.
“I didn’t know humans slept with angels,” I frowned.
“Of course, they do. Happens all the time, including some of the biggest mistakes in history,” God snickered.
“This puzzle is impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible, it requires a little work on your part, that’s all.”
“Can’t you see, I’m working hard?” The words just came out of my mouth; immediately, I regretted saying them. For years, I’d spoken in the exact manner when I confronted my ex: spiteful, hateful, self-centered, angry words. No wonder she left me. No wonder my children drifted away. I was in such pain, I could only consider myself. “I am so pathetic. My predicament chases away the very people who care for me.”
“And I am not uncaring,” God countered. “All survivors say that. All alcoholics deny they have a problem. You’re different, you can learn to care and love others. You are worth saving. First you must learn to love yourself, with a little direction from Angel of course. Gotta go!”
God seemed a little more talkative this time, I thought to myself.
“He’s pretty good with humans, especially the troubled ones.” The words came out of nowhere.
“Angel is that you?”
A shaft of light came through the window and illumined two of the puzzle pieces. I separated them from the pile and saw a pattern where they would fit. My hand trembled as I hooked them onto their potential partners.
As they came together, an impulse of energy rippled through my hand and arm. At that exact moment, I had a brief vision, a vision of a small child crying. I was overcome with grief and the emotions of guilt and shame.
The image-board dimmed; light from the window passed into shadow. An imperceptible change came over me. I felt – relieved – relieved that I had made some progress on the puzzle. A picture resolved itself onto the pieces depicting a memory of my past, a snapshot of me when I was very young. The image made me feel very uncomfortable.
Sitting quietly, I called for Angel. She didn’t answer. Still, I felt calm, somehow knowing this would be the beginning of a long relationship with her.
It was time for the morning chores. My mood brightened, I did the chores in a relaxed and unhurried manner.
Then I took out my checkbook to see how much money was left. The balance was very low, I was going to have to tap my 401K again. Soon, I would be out of money. I needed to find a job, if I could hold a job long enough to get some money together I might be able to publish a story I was working on. Previously, I was never able to make any real money writing, but it could be different this time.
The morning flew by. Deciding to do something with my new-found peacefulness, I took out my laptop and opened the Word file for my story. I scrolled to the part near the ending.
New words came to me. My fingers flew across the keys. Years of pent up and repressed memories appeared on the screen before me. That’s when I realized knowing all about my past was within my grasp. For once I could be free of the terrible memories; they would be gone from me, recorded forever, permanently in print for others to read, who in turn, would discover their own ‘demons.’ Perhaps this is the story I needed to tell. A story of meeting an Angel, a story of faith overcoming all obstacles, a story of how giving my troubles to God set me free to make a better life for myself.
An hour flew by. I decided to take a walk and let the story gel in my head. On the way back, I stopped for the mail. It was the usual mid-week mail – bills, flyers, appeals for money, and, wait what’s this, a business letter from the magazine where I had made a submission.
Oh well, probably just another rejection letter. I stood there with the mail shaking in my hands.
“Better get it over with,” I said out loud, to no one in particular.
“Hurry and open it!” Angel’s voice came out of nowhere.
“It’s you Angel. You took me by surprise again. I saw what you did with that shaft of sunlight on those puzzle pieces, neat trick.”
“Open that envelope; show me, show me, show me.”
I thought about the envelope, and then my mind went back to the puzzle pieces. I had a vision of my sisters. They were much older than I; I came along late in my family’s life. I remember being at the lake with them, those were the happier moments of my life.
The envelope fell from my hand; not all the moments were happy, some moments were very violent. I was getting sick, sick over the past.
“Breathe,” Angel said. “Exhale, you’re going to hyper-ventilate. Breathe at a normal rate, slowly, in, out, in, out,” she chanted.
I stood there and did what she told me. Soon my breathing returned to normal, the world stopped going around, my pulse rate dropped.
I picked up the envelope, opened one end and removed the letter. Within the folded letter there was a check made out to me in the amount of one-thousand-five-hundred and twenty-eight dollars. The letter said it was in payment for my last submission. The story would appear in the August edition. The editor would like to see more of my work, they may consider advances if the stories meet their guidelines.
“See, see what you have done, you’re published, you made moolah.” Angel seemed genuinely happy for me.
“Did you arrange this? Did God?” I asked in disbelief.
“No. You did. You are responsible for everything that happens to you. You have a choice, you can feel bad about your past and continue to suffer, or you can move on. Looks like you just moved on.” Angel started singing the theme song to The Jeffersons, Well, we’re movin’ on up. To the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
I laughed and continued down the lane to my cabin. Once inside I carefully put the check in my checkbook to be deposited when the bank opened. I placed the letter in my file of letters from the publishers.
This time, instead of caffeine, I took a cup of water and heated it in the microwave. With the steaming hot cup in my hand I sat at the puzzle board. I fiddled with some of the puzzle pieces. A few of them left me with the feeling they might fit together, I put them down on the board and as I pushed them along to the other pieces, a picture formed on them. A picture of a house on a steep hillside.
I went to the cabinet and brought down the box containing the family photos. I had carefully saved those photos in a beautiful presentation box. The collection of photos came from various family members, all of them gone.
I laid a stack of photos on the puzzle board. I thumbed through the stack until I found a picture of the house that was identical to the picture on the puzzle pieces. I recognized the house, one of the first homes I could remember. A pang of fear rippled through my body. The inner sides of my thighs began to burn.
“I see you found a couple of memories,” God said, his voice came out of nowhere.
“You startled me,” I blurted out, “must you always?”
“My apologies, I keep forgetting you are not a God-fearing man. Maybe you will think of me more often, my presence is in everything you do. I should not be a surprise to you, but at any rate, I see you are making progress assembling the puzzle. This time the pieces just came to you on their own.”
“How?” I asked God.
“Seek and you shall find. Ask and it will be given unto you. That’s how it works you know. Can you see how it works now?”
“Do you mean all I have to do is envision what I want, and it will come to me? How can that be?”
“It’s called the `Law of Attraction,’ concentrate on your true desires and everything you need will be placed in front of you. All you have to do is take what you want and discard the rest back to the universe.”
“You know I have plenty of wants, how come it hasn’t worked until this moment?”
“Oh, you want things alright. You want stuff, you want money, you want fame, you want notoriety, but you don’t want to work for it. You want it to appear without putting anything up.”
God’s words stung. “Isn’t wanting what I want, enough? How come I can’t attract it by just wanting it?”
“The Law of Attraction doesn’t mean you will get what you want. The Law works by enabling you to find a way of getting what you want. First you desire something. When you concentrate on that desire, the Law will place the pathway in front of you. If you are alert, you will find the proper way. It may not be easy, but it will come.”
“Everyone wants something, how come they complain they aren’t getting what they want?”
“They were like you. They want something. When shown the way, they don’t want to work. You are different now. You asked me, I showed you the way. The Universe is taking a chance on you. The Universe sees you might be genuine. The Universe gave you Grace and an Angel.”
“How are you, Angel, and the Universe connected?”
“The Universe is the home of all life. You are born of the stuff of the Universe. The Universe wants you to live and create more life, to move life along, to spread life. You are the Universe. You created me. You called me your God. My job is to place the path in your way.
“You have created Angel, who is made from the stuff of the Universe that resides in your heart. When you listen to your heart, you are listening to life itself. But when your mind gets in the way, it is all caught up in the way you think you should be. Angel straightens that out for you.”
“Do you mean, I am the Universe, God, and Angel, all in one? I have the power to be and get what I want because I am life itself?”
“Yes, that’s what I mean. Gotta go.”
“Wait, wait, don’t leave me with a trifecta bombshell; I can never fulfill that role.”
My heart was racing, I stopped breathing again. What did Angel say? ‘Breathe, breathe, just breathe!’
It was time to sit down and write, I switched my chair to be at the laptop. Sitting in front of the empty screen, I decided to write about the house on the hillside, the house where it all began. The house of my nightmares.
I walk down a sidewalk to a small home and step onto the porch. I open the screen door towards me, as I grasp for the main door latch, the door opens on its own, I step inside to a long hallway. A few steps more and I see a parlor on the right and a dining room on the left.
The memories from the past came back. A chill descended on me. A creepy feeling raced up my arms. Working my way through the emotions, I concentrated on getting the words onto the screen.
The hallway is dimly lit by a small bare bulb protruding from a ceiling light. The parlor and the dining room are tastefully furnished in a style from the 30’s. All good quality furniture. The parlor has several overstuffed chairs with doilies on the arms, the kind that are woven from a thick string, woven into knots that circle around and around and join in the center. Standing on the end tables are simple, upright shaded lamps, alit with dim incandescing bulbs. The walls are covered with very flowery faded wallpaper. A thick Oriental carpet, worn in spots, fills the center of the floor, the outskirts, well worn, but expensive wood.
The dining room is not lit. Like the parlor, the window shades are pulled down blocking the outside natural light from ever coming in. It does not matter now because it is nighttime; middle of the nighttime.
As I moved along, I was writing the text in rhythm to my imaginary progress through the house. I could smell the dampness and decay of the aging building.
Walking down the hallway deeper into the house, the lights from the parlor and hallway fade behind me. It is darker now. Closed doors to other rooms line the hall. I have no idea what is behind those doors. My skin begins to crawl. I can hear faint conversation from the end of the hall where a stairway leads up to a second story. There is a closed door at the top of the stairs. I climb the stairs, careful not to make a sound. There are many voices quarreling with each other, sometimes laughing in a grotesque way. Demons; they know of my arrival. The door suddenly opens – the demons drag me into that room – and tear me to pieces.
I sat, barely able to move. Powerful memories of my childhood occupied my mind.
To distract myself from the force of the emotions, I moved back to the puzzle board. A stream of sunlight appeared as it had days prior. Pieces of the puzzle illuminated. I gathered them together and pushed them over into the side of the puzzle. They settled on the upper right-hand corner.
A picture of a middle-aged woman appeared, it was my mother. She was much younger than my recent memories of her. She was very beautiful and full of life and was picnicking with me and my sisters. My father was not to be found, perhaps he was the one taking the picture.
I started in earnest to find other puzzle pieces that would complement the ones I had already assembled. The job went very quickly now. Eventually I had completed the entire four sides and a great deal of the middle of the puzzle except for a round area that occupied the very center.
I was exhausted. Looking at the time I realized I needed to get to the bank before it closed to deposit the check from the publisher. After the bank I stopped for gas, then on to the supermarket to buy a microwavable dinner. After I returned home, I put the dinner in the freezer, then sat at the puzzle board.
“I see you deposited the check.” It was Angel. I could feel her presence.
“Can I see you? I want to know what you look like. God said you are a `stunner,` well, those were not his exact words, he said you were a `hottie!'”
“That God, he is a naughty old man, but you see me all the time. You see me in your dreams, you see me when you walk along the streets in town. You see me when you watch porn. You even possessed me when you were married. Too bad you lost her, she was a good woman.”
Cringing, I decided to whiz by the porn comment. “When will I actually see you? You are the one I want to see.”
“I’ll tell you what. Finish the novel you’re working on and you will see me in that way; I will become very clear to you. I will be your muse, I will become your sexual fantasy. Once the novel is finished you will know me and have me completely, forever; but not before.”
Angel was right, I didn’t want to rush my relationship with her, it was too good. I didn’t want to be in a hurry. I decided to seduce her and make love to her in her way, in my novel.
I left the puzzle board and went for a walk. The novel began to take shape in my mind; the plot would be about a man who falls in love with an angel.
I spent the entire summer and much of the fall completing the manuscript. During that time, I sent off query letters to several agents about the concept of the novel. A number of my short stories found a home in publications, the checks were coming in, I had a track record.
One of the agents developed an interest in my work. Her name was Amanda and she wanted to see the manuscript, providing I could give her an exclusive for a period of time. I reluctantly agreed, I told her I wanted literary control over the content.
Amazingly, a publisher offered me an advance. They wanted some changes, Amanda the agent told me.
“They want some changes.” I spoke out loud hoping Angel would hear me.
“I know,” Angel said, “that is the way the industry works. The publisher is taking a chance, they need to be certain they will sell enough copies of the book to recover their investment, they have already indicated their good faith in giving you the advance. Give up your ego and make the changes, your readers need your story.”
Angel is right of course, after all, I know her well, and she knows me intimately.
“I see you are sleeping with Angel.” God’s voice came to me out of the blue. “I told you she was hot, and she is good for you. Have you finished your puzzle?”
“No, I still have the center hole to fill. I am afraid to look at it. My life is within the pictures, little vignettes from my past; the little pictures comprising a timeline from when I was very young until I married. I can’t find any pictures after that. Where did that time go?”
“You were so wrapped up in yourself you couldn’t think about others. You hardly even thought about your new wife and the babies the two of you created. It was all about you. Gimme, gimme, let me get more, which is why the memories are not there. It is just as well. Would you really have wanted to see yourself fall into your addiction? Your wife and children lost respect for you when you lost respect for yourself.”
God was right. I hated myself up until the time I started the puzzle.
“Pictures of everyone from my past life are in the puzzle; everyone that is, except my father. Where is he? Is his picture the missing part in the center of the puzzle?”
“Yes, your father is the missing part. Why don’t you stop what you are doing and complete the puzzle? Don’t you see you are slipping back into the same trap, wanting, forever wanting? Completing the puzzle will give you a new perspective. Completing the puzzle will bring you calm.”
God left me with those words. It was my original intent to find some peace, the novel and the constant attention to making the writing a business was indeed pushing me backward into the old life. At least I wasn’t drinking, that is up until now. I was constantly praying to Angel to keep me from falling back. The best she could do was to remind me that it was up to me to help myself.
I put aside the mail, and the files, I turned off the computer. I sat at the puzzle board and methodically moved piece by piece of the puzzle into alignment to the center of the puzzle.
A portrait of a man appeared before me.
The puzzle was complete, my life was all there, there except…
“God. God?” I cried out. “That man is not my father!”
“It’s me, Angel. He is your father.” I was so preoccupied with the puzzle I didn’t realize Angel was with me while I assembled the last of the pieces.
“It can’t be, I have his picture right here, puzzle-man does not look at all like my father.”
“You see, what goes on between men and women, sometimes, is secret.”
I was devastated.
“You mean my father was not my father?”
“You must figure that out for yourself. It will take some time, besides what difference does it make now? You are still you, nothing has changed.”
“We have to talk,” I replied pathetically. “I know I have you, you are an energy, not a human. I want human company, I want female human company,” I blurted out. “The fact I may have never known my biological father has tipped me over. I want a woman to hold me and comfort me in my grief.”
“What you mean is, you need to get laid.”
“Yes, that too.”
“Please see that your recent choices brought you to this point on your journey. You have followed the path that you, God, and I have put before you. If you desire a woman to accompany you on your journey, that opportunity will be given to you.”
I felt better getting my needs out into the open.
Months went by; I lost myself in the tasks of launching the book. Angel was right, whatever my past was, did not change the fact that I am here now. I found out about my past and have moved on. Moved on to a better life.
It was time to market my book.
I approached the first signing event with trepidation. Not being particularly outgoing, I was concerned about speaking in public. The novel had become an instantaneous hit, but I was unprepared for having to go on a book tour. I decided the best I could do was to talk at my local book store and do a small signing. If that went well I might, might, do another one someplace close by.
My agent was adamant about me promoting my own work. She told me the readers love to connect with the authors. She was also in the process of arranging appearances on local talk shows.
“Why don’t you just go with the flow,” Angel told me one night when we were talking after making imaginary love. “You are making plenty of money, the book is a hit, you will most likely get a movie commitment – why don’t I arrange it – I will be the Oscar-winning lead.”
“No, no, don’t get me involved in something I can’t handle,” I stammered.
“You can handle it.” God’s booming voice came through loud and clear. “Look what you have done. You stopped drinking, you are able to focus now, you are making a living doing something you love, you are in contact with your children. Even your ex has become a little more civil towards you.”
“What is this, a tag team?” I blurted out. “Here in the bedroom, is there no privacy?”
Angel and God fell silent.
After a semi-sleepless night, I developed a bad case of angst over the signing scheduled for this afternoon. I got dressed and went out to Dunkin’ Doughnuts for coffee and a blueberry muffin. Rather than taking my treats home, I decided to eat there, slowly enjoying my food. The local TV news station was announcing the happenings going on in the area. The picture on the screen showed my books on display at the bookstore, while the commentator announced I was going to be at the store in person to sign copies for the buyers.
The butterflies erupted again, I became sick with fear.
“You can do this,” were Angel’s comforting words.
She was right of course. Angel was right about everything. She was right about the puzzle and my past. She was right about my father not being my father. She was right about letting the words flow onto the paper directly from my heart.
“What do I do?” I asked her.
“Slow down and eat, go home and finish your daily chores. You have a few phone calls to return. Take a shower, get dressed and go to the bookstore.”
“That simple huh?”
“Yes, that simple.”
I finished the muffin and coffee and drove home. Looking through the mail, I found a card from my daughter. It was a note card. A nice one, expensive, a very modern design from Papyrus, just beautiful. Her inscription said: ‘Good luck at the book signing.’ That simple, it reduced me to tears. I became a sobbing mess.
Angel appeared. “Cry it out for a while, and then get on with it.”
The morning went by quickly, I hadn’t realized how much work had piled up. I had thirty minutes to shower and dress, which I did without thinking. I had some decent casual clothes I bought thinking they would enhance my writers image. I had no clue as to what that was. I opted instead to just dress the way I do when I write. Jeans, loose fitting outdoor shirt, jogging shoes and white athletic socks.
Can’t beat that style, I said to myself when I looked in the mirror before leaving the house. As I approached the bookstore I saw the line came out of the front door and continued around the block. As I drove by I got cold feet. I picked up my cell phone and called my agent.
“Why are there so many people outside the bookstore, do they have a water leak or something?”
“Where are you?” she asked. “We are here waiting for you. There is no problem, all those people are here to listen to you talk about writing the story, they want you to sign the books they buy. I sent a runner to another store to get more books, we are going to run out if he doesn’t get here soon. Park where you can, I will meet you at the door.” She hung up.
I drove around to a side street and parked, then jogged to the store. Amanda from the agency was waiting for me and hurried me inside. A podium had been set up at the rear of the store. The staff was busily unfolding chairs they had procured from the church down the street.
Somebody took up the microphone at the podium and announced, “Please find a seat or a comfortable place to stand. Your author is here, his talk will begin in three minutes.”
Amanda rushed me up to the podium, introduced me, and shoved the mic into my hands. I stood petrified, frozen by fear.
“Don’t be concerned sweetums, the Universe, God and I are here. Just talk, it will be perfect.”
The words came automatically as Angel said they would. I simply spoke, I spoke for twenty minutes. A nice lady presented me with 3 x 5 cards with questions on them. The cards were picked randomly so the audience had some sort of a chance to ask about the book and how I wrote it.
We broke from the podium to go to the table where I was to sign. The applause continued as I made my way to my chair. I had my favorite felt tipped pens in my pocket. Smiling people came up to me and presented their books to be signed. I politely asked their name, folks talked to me as I signed. I have no recall of any of it or any of the faces of the people who stood before me.
Except for one!
“Hi!” I said. Our eyes met and locked on to each other. She was very beautiful, just right for me, the spitting image of the heroine in my story. I could hardly hold my marker. “Who do you want me to make this out to?” I questioned, barely able to say the words.
“Angel,” she answered, “my name is Angel.”