NOTE: Material herein was obtained through the Manuscript Bureau of the National Amateur Press Association.
by Paul Burns
THE TELEPHONE’S JARRING woke us both up.
Eyes widened, I blinked at my wife. She raised no part of herself but one eyebrow. I rushed to the phone.
“This is the Teachers’ Strike Team Captain,” the receiver informed me. “Plans have changed. You’re to pick up a jug of hot coffee and glazed donuts for the picketers of your school building at our new headquarters, the Church of Eternal Love and Peace. It’s out on the old Dayton-Xenia road… to get there, you…”
Soon enough, I hung up the phone and morosely dressed; not for work, but for picketing. At the breakfast table, my wife’s eye scrutinized. She said nothing as she poured milk over my cornflakes, but the atmosphere all around the kitchen hung heavy with unspoken disapproval. Teachers! Public servants! On strike!
As my large spoon dipped into the soggy cereal for only a third time, the telephone jarred once again. My wife’s brow corrugated with annoyance. I rushed up to answer the call.
“Who was that?” my wife soon asked.
“One of the other fellow teachers giving me further instructions on how to get to the Church of Eternal Love and Peace,” I replied, dashing for the door in an effort to avoid my partner’s disapproving glance.
A crowded highway said a hasty “good morning” to me as the sun, not far up on the horizon yet, bravely pierced through layers of morning mist. Moving mist which not only hugged the grassy ground on either side of the highway, but soared up and splayed out like Japanese fans to envelope far-off oaks and maples and paw-paw trees. It likewise outlined the nearby amur honeysuckle, dogwood, Sargent crab apple, and black haw shrubs.
Mist – that must have been saying something significant. An omen?
I took a turn, quit the highway, and barreled onto the old Dayton-Xenia road. My mind toyed with how pleased my fellow picketing teachers would be when they saw me, hot coffee and glazed donuts on a tray, moving toward them with all the hospitable graciousness of the Baker’s Chocolate Serving Girl. I smiled with warm pleasure which too soon turned into a cold scowl as I realized that the old Dayton-Xenia road was becoming more winding, mistier, and much more sidelined by broad patches of farmland, only now and then relieved by a silo or some grazing Herefords. No church. No fast-food restaurants. No service stations… nothing. Just farms. And me, gripping the steering wheel harder and more anxiously.
Dayton-Xenia road ended at a confusing road junction which led on to a monstrously antiquated floating bridge. My eyes bulged; I thought of braking the car, but someone was behind me (someone is always behind me on the road, it seems). On the bridge – a dangerously narrow affair – I panicked and the car choked, stalled, and stopped with a sickening sputter. Misty demons danced through my mind. They were aided on their way by honking horns of irate drivers. A truck driver, coming from the opposite direction, stopped his van, stared at me with a quizzical smile, poked his head out the window and yelled: “Hey, Fella, how do you expect to get that ole car of yours off this bridge, on wings?”
I threw this nasty macho a look and hoped he wouldn’t get out of his truck. He didn’t, and finally, when all the other cars had vanished, I turned the ignition on again, and inexplicable magic occurred.
After backtracking a bit, inspiration hit. Up ahead stood a solid looking farm house, in front of which chickens and a royal-crested rooster languished. Farmers, I knew, were early risers. Surely this one might give me proper instructions to get to the Church of Eternal Love and Peace. I braked the car in the farmer’s driveway, strode out and unlatched the gate which closed after me with an eerie bang. Instantly alerted, royal rooster advanced toward me, and the glare in the fowl’s eye was very foul. A stifling pause ensued; and then royal rooster rushed forward pecking, pecking, pecking. At my pants leg, at my knees, at my upper thighs, at unmentionable areas further on up. I howled in outraged pain; spun around and dashed for the gate latch which stubbornly refused to open. In desperation I clambered up the gate and fell over it onto the driveway.
Picking up strewn shreds of dignity, I once again assayed Dayton-Xenia road. Up ahead there was a car with an open door. It was parked in front of MAMMA’S BAR. Whatever reasoning powers I had left told me that though the bar surely wouldn’t be open for business at 7:30 A.M., a dishwasher, a clean-up lady, or whatever, might possibly be haunting the place, exonerating an insignificant week’s pay. I knocked on the glass door.
The darkness inside showed a gray shadow wobblingly advancing. A click and the glass was flung open. “Buddy!” screamed the nondescript, middle-aged man, throwing out his unsteady arms. In a trice I was tugged forward toward the dark bar where this beery-breathed creature now gripped my wrists harder. “Just in time,” the drunk loudly exclaimed, hurling me over to a bar stool and introducing me to some bleary-eyed harridan whose hair looked like it had been last shampooed four years ago. “We’ve been here drinkin’ up a storm since yesterday,” Drunk said proudly. “The manager and the bartender ain’t here yet; they’ll be in around about eleven or so: what are you drinkin’? We’re lonely all alone here.”
The harridan hiccuped, the wobbly drunk leered, and I lurched for the door. Daylight never felt so deliciously delightful. The mist all around, by now, had cleared. And several blocks down Dayton-Xenia road, I spied the Beavercreek Fire Department. Another inspiration poked at me.
“Yeah?” the fireman at the desk inquired, eyeing me dubiously. The blue-pants public servant was chomping on an exhausted cigarillo. By now feeling quite faint, I supported myself by holding on to a long bronze pole fortunately in evidence; a pole that reached up, near the desk, to the ceiling.
“Please, Sir. how do I get to the Church of Eternal Love and Peace?” I murmured, too dazed to smile.
Just as the fireman extracted his cigarillo and opened his mouth to speak, a hideous clanging drowned out all other possible sounds in the fire station room. Next, a descending figure slammed into my pole-gripping fingers. The pain stunned. I hurtled against the desk as another figure noiselessly descended the bronze pole. A third. A fourth. And the fifth, who, in his hasty effort to don an oilskin fireman’s coat, flung the blanket-sized apparel in such a vigorous arc that it thwacked me across the buttocks. Already unbalanced, I fell in a heap to the floor.
“Get that car out of the fire-department driveway or our trucks will run over it,” someone yelled at me. In three seconds I was back on Dayton-Xenia road.
At last, up ahead, the Church of Eternal Love and Peace! But no one from the teacher’s association to meet and greet me. I stumbled into the church basement where three ladies from the health department were waiting to start a babysitting clinic class. On the heavily carpeted floor of the basement, five babies crawled about joyfully.
“You’re just in time,” one of the beaming ladies – the one with the most motherly smile and mousiest-colored hair – exhorted me. Then she speedily picked up one of her charges and brought him over to me.
“Here,” she breathed. “Hold little Jimmie a moment while I go upstairs and telephone my daughter.”
Needless to say, by the time Vicar Johnson, the church pastor, disembarrassed me from this mixed-up situation, little Jimmie had mistaken my palms and arms for a potty. “You’ll find the striking teachers’ coffee and donuts in the annex basement beyond the sanctuary,” Vicar Johnson intoned sympathetically as he discreetly placed a large white handkerchief atop his own palms and relieved me of little Jimmie.
Finally! The jug of hot coffee! The box of glazed donuts! Maddened by victory, I fast fled the Church of Eternal Love and Peace. Once again pleasurable thoughts meandered across my mind. How pleased my fellow striking teachers would soon be. How nice and warm it felt to be of service to others. How true it was that life indeed was a Church of Eternal Love and Peace. In joy and re-affirmation, I pushed my foot harder on the gas pedal.
“Okay, Buddy… slowly, if you can, stop your car to the side of the road there.” I heard the State Patrolman’s harsh voice command through the open car window. “I just clocked you going through a 20-mile an hour school zone zooming at 40 miles an hour. You’re a killer, Buddy! I take it you really don’t think much of kids, do you?”
by Paul Burns
MY WIFE put down the telephone. “Pat’s in the hospital,” she said to me in a low, strained voice. “He’s had another heart attack; that was his niece on the phone. She said Pat wants you to go over and see him. It sounds pretty serious this time.”
Pat is a neighbor of ours. A true son of Auld Sod, he came to America from the southern Irish coastal town of Cobh, back in 1949. A friend of Pat’s lived and worked as a waiter in Washington, D.C. at the time and Pat went there. The U.S. capital enthralled him. He stayed there, in fact, almost fifteen years. Then, I think he told me, relatives of his in Ohio prevailed upon him to come here. But his heart always remained in Washington, D.C., and cherubic, talky Pat made you very well aware of his love of the capital.
I soon entered his hospital room. Pat was curtained off from the other patients and when I sat beside his bed, I don’t know if the pleasant-faced Irishman recognized me, for his low-lidded eyes were blurred, and all his concentration seemed bent just on breathing. But after a bit he rallied, and soon after that he started talking. I wanted to cheer old Pat up, so I asked him to talk about his younger days in Washington, D.C.
“You have no idea what Washington was like in 1950,” he whispered, with a generous grin and eyes beginning to flash. “A magic city! Clean. Bustling. Good jobs. I worked as a waiter for The Circle restaurant up on Thomas Circle, and I fell in love with the whole city as much as I loved my own life. I adored D.C. so much that I took out papers to become a citizen. Even though I hadn’t seen too much more of America, Washington was enough. You see, it’s wonderful being a vigorous young man and being in love with a beautiful city. I worked the night shift, and often I’d stay up till five in the morning, just to see the dawn rising beyond the Washington Monument.
“Did you have a girl friend, Pat?”
“Back home in Ireland. Mary Ryan. And I kept writing Mary to come to America. I started saving money and sending it to Mary so she could build up enough for the steamship passage.” I smiled silently, awed as always by the direct simplicity, the uncomplicated, unquestioning vigor, the almost childlike relish immigrants take in living in a country that I – unfortunately – am apt at times to take too much for granted, myself.
“But… Mary wouldn’t come to America… she said she had heard too many bad things about the barbarians in this ‘land of gangsterdom,’ as she called it. She’d seen too many silly motion pictures and then, when the Korean incident occurred, she took sides against America.”
“Did you find yourself another girl… in Washington, D.C.?”
“No. the city itself… D.C. itself, became my girl friend… and I courted Washington as I would a woman. I got to know it as well… as intimately. I visited its side streets, its little-known areas, its world-famous embassies. The French chateau-Provencal embassy is perhaps the loveliest in the whole city; maybe in the whole world. I roamed all about the town… Georgetown… Dupont Circle… Foggy Bottom… all the Grecian Government buildings… the Mellon Art Gallery with its pink marble front and its gorgeous green Carrara marble foyer… all of it, the slums and the posh apartment houses… I was joyously sick with love for Washington…”
“Why did you leave it finally, Pat? Didn’t you tell me once it was your relatives here in Ohio?”
“Well no, not really. I kept writing Mary Ryan, back in Cobh, for years and years. Begging, pleading, crying for her to join me in Washington, D.C. But Mary’s answer was always no… no… no!
“Then, one rainy, cold February day, after fifteen years’ correspondence between D.C. and Cobh, I got a short note from Mary announcing that she was to be married the next Wednesday to Timothy Murphy, a local pub owner in the section of Cobh both Mary and me came from….”
Tears in my own eyes matched those I saw growing in Pat’s. Then one large teardrop began rolling slowly down his once-ruddy left cheek. In stupid fascination, my eyes were pinned on the traveling tear as Pat finished his story.
“When I got through reading Mary’s short note,” Pat continued, “I savagely tore it up in little pieces… threw the pieces on the floor… stepped on them… stomped upstairs, packed my bags, and left Washington, D.C. for good… I never saw my beautiful city again….”
Pat’s teardrop now reached the hospital floor. I stared at it hypnotized. Soon, another tear joined it. And then another. I stiffened; then I stood up and leaned over to whisper in Pat’s hairy ear.
“You’re going to get well,” I said. He nodded. “Soon!”
“Aye. replied Pat weakly. I placed my hand on his hot brow. Man’s affection for man. A great need; else, man can never find God.
I couldn’t stand it anymore. So I turned and opened the curtain of the hospital room.
“Come back and see me… soon,” I heard Pat whisper back to me – in that sweet Irish brogue that breaks the heart.
Hand set in Deepdene. Edited, published, and printed by Jake Warner in an edition of 480 copies. Display type is Sans Serif Medium Condensed. Ink is Van Son 40904. Cover stock is unknown; text is 60-lb unknown stock.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, Maryland 20770