NT Franklin has been published in Page and Spine, Fiction on the Web, 101 Words, Friday Flash Fiction, CafeLit, Madswirl, Postcard Shorts, 404 Words, Scarlet Leaf Review, Freedom Fiction, Burrst, Entropy, Alsina Publishing, Fifty-word stories, among others.
Me and Bart Dig for Gold
It was a cool summer Saturday morning and I was riding my bike in circles on the driveway. I waved to Bart across the road as he disappeared into his garage.
Bart pedaled across the road and called out, “I have a great plan.”
“Does it include those shovels you have?”
Bart dismounted and handed me one. “Yup, sure does. We’re gonna dig for gold.”
Bart mounted his bicycle and said, “Follow me, time’s awastin’.”
We didn’t have a baseball game so the day was open. I pedaled up beside Bart and asked again, “Where are we digging?”
“You know the new house going up on the way to the park?” Bart asked.
I thought for a minute and it came to me. “The one that looks like it’s on two lots?”
We stopped at a road to let the traffic pass. “Yeah. There’s a huge pile of dirt there.”
“Can we dig there? Isn’t it someone’s house?”
Bart turned to me and said, “Not yet, it’s not.”
The traffic cleared and Bart pushed off. I was a little skeptical about the dig, but pedaled fast so to keep up with Bart.
We arrived at the dig site and parked our bikes.
“Isn’t that a great pile of dirt?” asked Bart.
I had to admit it was a pretty big pile. “Think there are any rubies with the gold?”
“I dunno. They’re red and shiny, right?”
“Yup, my mom likes them. She likes the one your mom wears.”
“That’s right. She wears it when Dad’s traveling. She got it from someone.”
“Well, my mom thinks it’s pretty. Maybe I’ll find one for her.”
Bart walked toward the pile. “Grab your shovel and let’s dig.”
“I dunno. I’m gonna start about half way up.”
“Bart, how big are the gold nuggets? The size of a marble?”
“Yeah, that’d be a good one.”
Bart knew what he was doing so I started digging near him on the pile.
We dug for a while. Good thing it was a cool morning because digging for gold was hard work.
“Hey!” I yelled throwing up my hand. “Watch it. You nailed me with that shovelful.”
Bart put his shovel down. “Sorry. It’s just that I thought we’d have found lots of gold already.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I haven’t found any either.” I put my shovel across my knees and sat on the dirt pile. “No rubies either.”
Bart jabbed his shovel into the dirt pile and sat next to me. “Dirt and rocks, is all.”
“Yeah, I found a mess of little broken rocks. Really tiny pieces. See?”
Bart bent over to look. “Where?”
“Here, by my foot. Can’t you see them?
“Oh, the little chips? I’ve seen a mess of them, too.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard, “Morning, boys.”
Bart hopped up and brushed off the seat of his pants and said, “Hi.”
A tall man smiled and asked, “What are you boys doing?”
I tried to make myself smaller and hoped we weren’t in trouble.
Bart climbed down the hill to meet the man. “We’re digging for gold.”
“Gold, huh? Find any?”
Bart shook his head. “Nope. No rubies either.”
The man smiled, revealing very white teeth. “No rubies either?”
“Nah, mostly rocks and dirt and piles of chips.”
The man cocked his head. “Chips?”
Bart motioned to me and I picked up a handful of the chips and brought them down. I held them out in my hand.
The man studied them and asked, “Lots of these?”
Bart shrugged his shoulders.
The man walked over to the pile and pawed in the dirt. Me and Bart looked at each other, shook our heads, then watched as the man picked something up from the pile.
He carried it over and handed it to Bart.
“This is a Native American arrowhead. It’s made of flint. Native Americans chipped off those pieces while making an arrowhead. That’s a good find, boys.”
“It’s not gold,” Bart said.
“Or rubies,” I chimed in.
“Maybe not, but valuable nonetheless. I’m Mr. Wiley. I own this pile of dirt and the soon-to-be-finished house.”
I looked at Bart. I didn’t like where this was heading.
Bart looked Mr. Wiley square in the eye. “There wasn’t a sign saying we couldn’t dig in the dirt pile.”
I took a half step back. “Are we in trouble?” I asked. “We didn’t mean to hurt anything, we were just digging for gold and rubies. You can have the arrowhead.”
Mr. Wiley laughed. “You boys are just fine. I remember loving to dig in dirt piles when I was about your age.” He gestured for us to come closer. “I have deal for you. You two, but no one else, can dig in the dirt here. You can keep the arrowheads you find. But…”
Bart straightened up and I took another step back.
Mr. Wiley threw his head back and laughed. “What a pair of pistols you two are! As I was saying, you can keep the arrowheads you find, but I’d like to see them. That’s all.”
“Really?” Bart asked.
“Yup, that’s all. When I move into the finished house, you two come over and we’ll set a time for you, your parents, and your arrowheads to visit. Deal?”
“Deal,” Bart said.
Mr. Wiley stepped away and said, “I just stopped by to check on the progress of the house. You two carry on.” He waved to us as he walked back to his car.
I stood there wondering what happened.
Bart turned toward the pile. “Arrowheads. Cool. Let’s get digging.”
We found one more arrowhead that day. The next day we found another. We dug for the next five days and when we were about to give up, we found our fourth arrowhead. The day after that, a bulldozer arrived and spread the dirt around in preparation for a lawn.
I kept all the arrowheads in my coin collection box under my bed for safekeeping. My mom was pretty impressed with the arrowhead collection and she agreed to meet Mr. Wiley.
All in all, it was a good day, four arrowheads were safe, and who knows, there is always tomorrow.
Geoffrey Heptonstall's fiction includes a novel, Heaven's Invention [Black Wolf 2017] and a story for Scarlet Leaf Review, My Lovely Dear [June 2017]. Recent poetry appeared in All the Sins, The Drunken Llama and Runcible Spoon.
SOMETHING FRENCH, LIKE A CONNECTION
‘My, what is it with you?’ Lucille once asked him. ‘You waiting for something French to happen?’ Lucille said that kind of thing. It made no sense, not to Bud. He just let it pass. No point in arguing with Lucille. No point in arguing with anybody. Let the world go on moving round the sun. Folks could say this and maybe that, but all the while Bud had his dreams. They were most important to him. They were real. He was floating through clouds, clutching rainbows, and feeling a shower of stars fall on his bemused head. When he looked out of the window, as he often did, Bud saw what nobody ever could guess was happening to him. Something French? Well, maybe.
Bud’s dream was of flying. The first time he flew he was so young, a child of seven years. Early one morning he leapt effortlessly, naturally, gracefully from the garden wall into the air. It was the time of his life, soaring and swooping over the rooftops and the trees, then high into the clouds. It did not seem at all unusual. Surely at some point in their lives everyone can fly? In Bud’s case it was one morning a little before the waking call from his mother when he was seven. Then, without warning it was time for school. There would be no more flying.
Bud stayed close to his dream. He would watch the motion of birds in flight. He watched the planes that flew on their way to distant cities they could reach in the time he could write for Miss McMaster about the boy who could fly as easily as a fish can swim.
He liked movies about birds and also about planes. In Flying Down to Rio, seen on TV the summer he was thirteen, the sight of the showgirls dancing on the wings of the plane thrilled him because he imagined that when he was a little older, eighteen maybe, he was going to see such spectacles for himself. This would be happening all the time, like shoot-outs between cops and hoodlums at the D-Lite grocery store. If he drank with fellow cavalry officers he would casually toss his glass into the fireside. Then there would be the time he had to jump from the car that was about to plunge over the cliff. Then there would be the time the flight attendant asked, ‘Is there anyone here who knows how to fly a plane?’
Actually, when it came to doing it for real Bud was not a good flier. Planes made him nervous. He did not dare look down at the ground below as the craft rose so swiftly into the air. He was happier in the clouds. Their soft cushioning look gave him the illusion of safety. He always listened carefully to the attendant’s instructions. It comforted him to think that if the plane landed on water, when he was floating in the water the light in his hand would attract the attention of the rescue party. With such thoughts he whiled away the hours of flight, drifting gradually into some dream of showgirls and dare-devil aeronauts. This was the Bud that nobody really knew.
A better marriage might have made the vital difference. But Lucille wasn’t one for flying. There was a time when Bud tried to tell her of his plans, ambitions and hopes.
Yes, they were hopes that dwarfed the skyline of theirs and anybody’s city. But Bud had serious ambitions then. He had talent. He knew he had. High school hadn’t brought out the best in him because of all the jerks. And the job in insurance was for the little guys. Someday the profile would read ‘There was a time when he was just another insurance salesman cold-calling in wealthy neighbourhoods until the day the door opened and…’
That day was not yet. The years were passing, but nobody was going to open the door unless, of course, he opened it for himself. He suggested they move to somewhere different, somewhere with more opportunities. He suggested Los Angeles, but Lucille just laughed. The vision of Bud staring out at Hollywood homes was Bud all the way through. ‘Leopards don’t change,’ was all Lucille would say in response. Bud could think only of a balloon escaping from his hand, and disappearing into the kingdom of the lucky.
Some afternoons, if he had completed his quota for the day, Bud would slip into a movie house downtown. He knew where all of them were. He avoided places where he thought there may be somebody who would see him and tell Lucille. She did not share her husband’s need for some entertainment that life could not provide. Busying herself about the house, Lucille could avoid Bud, dozing on the couch, mouth open with peculiar sounds, and eyes closed.
One day there was a movie of a kind Bud did not usually see. It was foreign. Foreign meant difficult and strange, with no action, and with words you had to read at the bottom of the screen. He did not see the point of them. He supposed that crazies and retards watched them because they knew no better. What Bud liked was a good movie.
This movie turned out to be interesting once you got over the lack of color. At least nobody spoke. It was all motion and music, like the old silent days, classic days of an ancient time, a Roman and Greek and Egyptian time. Bud never understood why there was no color then. He had heard it said that back then there was not the spectrum of color that there is now.
It was a bleak world that Bud feared he might stumble into accidentally one day. Let us suppose he turned a corner, only to find himself in an unfamiliar street. When he looked back the alley he had walked down was no more. There was no way of return. Fearing that might happen, Bud did not like movies that were not in a world he knew.
But this was different.
It was French. He could tell that by the shots of the Eiffel Tower. Also there was a man in a beret. And guys sat at sidewalk tables drinking wine. The Continentals did that. They did it a lot because their sports and movies weren’t so good.
So why did Bud like this movie so much? Well, there was the man selling balloons in the park. The boy buys all the balloons, only to find he cannot keep his feet on the ground. He rises and falls. Then the wind starts to blow so that newspapers and hats are scattered, the boy rises higher and higher into the sky above Paris. He is gliding gently, taken by whatever current blows, for he cannot really steer. He tries putting one hand out, but he changes course only a little. So he lets the balloons take him where they will. He is free. The boy looks happy. Bud remembered what such a feeling was.
The problem was, as always, that Lucille did not remember. She could not have had the faintest notion of what Bud was trying to say if he had told her about the movie he saw. Some sardonic remark was going to be all he would hear. And so Bud did not tell Lucille of the beautiful experience he had had that afternoon. ‘How was my day? Oh, you know…’ She did not and would never know.
Maybe the less she knows… Bud thought. If she tried to understand. But how could Lucille, so practically-minded, make sense of something French with balloons? It wasn’t about something she knew. It was something Bud knew.
Bud knew that what he had seen was true. There was a city called Paris, which was French. If there he could find a man who sold balloons in a park, then he, too, might glide over the boulevards and cafes where marmzelles in silk skirts would blow kisses as Bud, the hero, passed overhead on his way to…wherever his flight would take him. This, he thought, was something he had to do at last. One day it was going to be too late. Until then it was never too late.
The clock on the City Hall struck the hour. Bud as a boy had wondered what would happen if he dared climb the tower and changed the time of the clock. Would people walk backwards, repeating all they had done in reverse? Would the world be thrown into chaos? Would a great hurricane blow, and whirlwind spin? Would day become night? Would gravity vanish so that everyone rose up towards the sun? Was that what would happen? Wasn’t there a movie about that? It would make a great movie. Bud used to have ideas like that all the time.
Well, now it was time to live out some of those ideas. He used to say he would. He no longer said it out loud. But inside his head Bud was the same dreamer who had been known to fly. He foresaw the grins and snickers, the shaking of heads when they heard what Bud had gone and done. But he also foresaw the tickertape welcome home.
Or, if that was expecting a little too much of envious people, there would be Lucille, yellow-ribboned, greeting him off the bus and walking home with him, arm in arm. ‘You were always my hero, Bud. I just knew you could do it really.’ The nagging and the snorts were not the Lucille that was deep inside her. At heart she loved him. She would love for sure the man she was going to see in a new light when he came.
So why had it taken so long for the Bud that nobody knew to strike out as the Bud everybody loved? Well, there had obstacles and obligations. They grounded a person.
They weighed you down. When Bud was a boy he visited a home that had a bird in a cage. He felt so much sorrow for that bird. He wondered at the cruelty of people who could imprison such a creature for their own pleasure. They were thinking only of themselves, whereas Bud was thinking about freedom and the right of a beautiful, harmless creature to live a natural life.
‘They would put me in jail,’ he thought, ‘if they wanted to.’ Bars on the window always made him uneasy. Even the metal fence outside the school was something he would have liked to tear down. It was when he thought of that fence, and the thought of other walls and locked doors that finally impelled Bud to make his escape.
It was easily done, telling Lucille that he was going hunting with a few of the guys. She didn’t seem to think it strange that Bud possessed no gun, and that he had never been hunting. He was not an outdoor person at all. ‘I need to find the real me,’ he told Lucille. ‘Well, she said in reply, ‘there’s a man in there somewhere, I guess.’ She expected him back in three or four days.
Bud a choice that was no choice. He had to fly. And so he took flight to Paris, the city of many movies he found unforgettable because they were about Paris. The name itself evoked images of a charm and style that Silverwood City never had even in the finest weather when a guy felt lucky. A guy was lucky in Paris whatever the season.
Bud knew this was to be the movie part of his life, a starring role in a picture for which he would be remembered if only by himself alone.
‘I always wanted to see Paris,’ said a short, fat man from Milwaukee, ‘ever since I saw Tony Curtis in Wild and Wonderful.’ ‘Well, for me it was Gene Kelly,’ a sweet lady from Philadelphia replied. ‘And to think,’ a tall, pale schoolteacher from South Carolina added, ‘we’ll be seeing the famed cathedral of Notre-Dame as immortalized by Charles Laughton in that great classic movie, the one about the hunchback.’ Bud heard all these testimonies with some interest. He felt, perhaps, he was among friends. But when he mentioned the balloons nobody was listening. Not a word was said. Somebody changed the subject, saying, ‘I don’t remember Tony Curtis in a Paris movie. Was that before or after Spartacus?’
The plane began its descent through the French clouds. Bud opened his eyes to see the pelican that flew by. At first glance it was another plane. But then he saw it was a bird. It was not quite a like the creatures you see flying. It had a look about i. Pelicans do not have so much intelligence and personality in them, he felt sure. They were birds. They flew. There was not much more to them, except in a pelican’s case an enormous beak.
Bud was puzzled by what he saw. On the other hand he was in the air above Paris. They did things a little differently there. That was why he had come across an ocean. If he found himself in a Paris that wasn’t Paris he would be disappointed. He was not going to be disappointed. The sassy grin and wave from the pelican told him that this was going to be a great movie.
And so it was no surprise when he saw the friendly pelican again. He had hoped they might see each other. It was to be expected that at the Eiffel Tower something French would happen. It did when the pelican landed and introduced himself. ‘Monsieur, I ask have you seen Zouzou?’ the pelican said in a clear but slightly anxious tone. ‘Beret and striped jersey and pencil skirt? She was here, but my fear is that she has fallen.’
‘Pardon me, but do you play the accordion you have there?’ Bud asked. The pelican shot an affronted look at the hapless Bud. ‘Of course. It is how I make my living. Zouzou sings, and I accompany her. I have a good singing voice myself, you understand, but I prefer to play my accordion.’ At that moment Zouzou, looking as the pelican had described, came floating down, followed by a gendarme who floated not nearly so gracefully. He seemed flustered by the indignity of his experience. ‘This charming young lady fell, and I tried to save her,’ the gendarme explained. Bud saw. He had hoped that something French would happen. Something French was happening. If the folks back home could see him now…
But weren’t they watching back home? This was the kind of movie that Bud had been waiting for. They were lots of guys like Bud, spending their lives waiting for something French to happen. Now Bud was the lucky guy who found that it was happening to him, floating through the Parisian sky, following Zouzou the chanteuse, her pelican accordion-player and the gendarme who had attempted to rescue the marmzelle.
‘Just follow me, m’sieur,’ said the pelican. Although it seemed natural, Bud did not know until then that he could fly like a pelican. Something he had always dreamed might happen was happening. These things happened in movies about Paris. As he once said to Lucille, ‘It ain’t just about popcorn.’ She just gave him one of her looks. She was very good at giving those looks.
Now Lucille was far away. Bud could worry about explanations to her later. For the moment they had to find Zouzou before it was too late. Soon in their descent the pelican and he found her. ‘I lost my balance,’ she said. ‘I thought I saw someone I once knew.’ Her voice was wistful, almost sad when she spoke. ‘Someone who owes you money, huh?’ the pelican suggested, but Zouzou was drifting through memories and regrets, and she heard nothing of the accordion-player’s worldly wisdom. He knew a thing or two. She knew different things. Bud thought it was a very moving scene, one that needed a little music to make it perfect.
‘Sometimes it’s very good just to let the mind float a little,’ Bud said, his voice, also, becoming dreamy. He saw nothing now but wisps of something fine that could have been cotton, or it could have been candy floss, though they were not sticky. They were like fine, spring rain. They were clouds, for no longer was he falling: he was rising. And he was rising so high, following Zouzou, the gendarme and the crazy pelican. Bud supposed it was the instinct for survival, like the war hero he would have been but for that medical examination.
Bud no longer cared what the people back home thought of this. For once – just once – he had nobody to consider except himself. There was nobody - nobody except of course his new friends who were teaching him how to follow his dreams. It was easier when there was no Lucille to wake him.
Before too long they had left the clouds behind. The gendarme said, ‘I am here to ensure there is no breach of the regulations. The law is very strict on matters of dreaming.’ All Bud knew about the law was that it was very strict on just about everything. ‘Therefore,’ the gendarme asked, ‘I must ask you, m’sieur, do you have a licence to dream?’
‘My name is Jacques-Henri Villeneuve-Dumesnil.’
‘That’s really too bad,’ Bud sincerely commiserated. ‘You could change it. Lots of movie stars do that. I got a book back home…’
‘I have heard enough,’ said Jacques-Henri Villeneuve-Dumesnil. ‘I am affronted by your impudence. I shall arrest you here among the clouds, escort you safely to earth, and there have you guillotined as an example.’
‘I thought,’ Bud reflected sadly, ‘I was on the road to freedom. But I guess guys like me just don’t get the breaks.’
And so Bud’s French movie moved to its close. Bud always knew when a movie was about to finish. Sometimes there was a kiss. Sometimes there was a shoot-out. All that remained was a falling baguette which fell unexpectedly on Jacques-Henri’s head. Helmeted, he had protection from the worst effects of projected missiles, but the baguette of stale, hard bread caused the gendarme’s helmet to fall over his eyes. Jacques-Henri was flying blind, his body swooping and spinning until he was out of sight, lost in the candy-floss.
‘O- la! la!’ the pelican exclaimed, ‘That was fortunate for you, m’sieur. But don’t worry about him. He’ll wake up on solid ground as if nothing had happened. And we, m’sieur, shall fly to the moon.’
‘Sounds good,’ Bud agreed. ‘And if it’s good enough you and Zouzou I guess it’s fine by me.’
When Bud was a boy he dreamed of flying to the moon. He was not the first, of course, but nobody had flown there the way he was going to fly there, the way he was flying now. There was no contact with earth, nothing to remind him that he was an insurance salesman from Silverwood City, nothing to deny him the dream of being the guy who simply flew to the moon because he wanted to do it. He wanted to do it, and he had the right contacts. That’s what a guy needs to get the breaks. Well, with Zouzou and her pelican friend….
Bud looked about him, and all he could see were stars in the darkness. He called out their names, but heard nothing in reply. There was no sign of the moon, nor of earth. Bud was somewhere in the depths of space, floating. It was among the fears he had as a boy that he might find himself out there. Now he was there. Moments before it had been interesting and fun. He had made friends with some unusual people. But they had deserted him, just as he had deserted Lucille and all the people he knew back home. He had no home. Lost in the Universe, that was to be the ultimate experience of his life. A guy like Bud just doesn’t get the breaks.
Or so he thought. But a guy’s luck can change. And there came the sound of an accordion from far away. It was so faint that wonderful sound that told him he was not alone. He could hear something French happening. And he heard familiar voices calling out to him. ‘Come down, M’sieur Bud,’ they cried from below.
When Bud looked down he saw clouds. And through the clouds something metallic shining. Slowly he floated down, following the voices to the tower where he could gently land. It wasn’t over. That was the interval, a time to buy more popcorn, a time to allow all those images sink into his memory.
It was dawn over the city. The views of Paris were overwhelming. ‘This is better than anything,’ Bud gasped. ‘I mean, it’s just so real. So real it’s like a movie.’ Bud was lost for words. ‘When words escape,’ said the pelican, ‘then it is time to sing.’
‘Yeah, I like musicals. Guys in tuxedos. Dames in high heels. You can’t beat those musicals. Like Gigi. I guess that’s one you Frenchies like as much as we do.’
But the pelican was not listening. He broke into song. It was not the kind of tune Bud actually liked, for it was more of a wail than a melody. But it reassured Bud that he was not lost in the stars f or ever.
‘Regard this I implore you,’ Zouzou cried. ‘See what a world is there for us. A world of liberty for which I am prepared to fight, a world for which my friend Raymond the pelican is prepared to die on my behalf, should the need arise.’
‘Should the need arise,’ the pelican agreed, rather mutedly. Perhaps it was the hour of the morning that had curbed his enthusiasm, whereas for Zouzou this new day was the dawn of a glorious new opportunity. ‘This, my friends, is what we have sacrificed so much for. This is liberty. This is this the hour of liberty. We shall be from this moment forward free for ever.’
‘Sounds pretty good to me,’ Bud agreed. ‘I just wish it could be real. Really real.’
‘Ah, my friend, you can make it come true,’ Zouzou insisted.
‘Well, I’d like to think so, but, you see, there’s Blanche back home in the States.’ No sooner had Bud spoken than there was heard a familiar, somewhat raucous voice he thought he might never hear again. It was a voice from Silverwood City. It was a voice that had once purred in Bud’s impressionable, innocent ear. It was the voice of all that he supposed was lost in this beautiful dream. It was the voice of Lucille coming ever closer through the sky.
‘Hi, y’all,’ Lucille shouted as she floated down in the arms of Jacques-Henri Villeneuve-Dumesnil of the Paris Gendarmerie. ‘Look what I’ve found. I mean, there I was at home – alone – when out of the sky fell this adorable little cutesie into the pool I was about to throw myself into it when I learned the truth about the rat I had the misfortune to marry when I was a sweet young maid who had never been kissed except when there were soldiers in town. I was always dependent on the kindness of soldiers until someone came to the house selling insurance and dispensing what I thought was love.’
‘She pounced on me,’ said Bud. ‘I didn’t know what was happening, not even when the preacher held the shotgun to my head. It all happened so fast.’
‘It was so that I might please my Daddy before he died. I said, “Daddy, I have found love”. All Daddy could do was shake his head. But I paid no heed, having fallen instantly in love for the first time that day.’
‘Lucille, honey, I can explain…’
‘There’s no need to explain, Bud, for I have found something that no insurance man could give me. And what I have found is, like, a connection. I have never felt a connection before. Now I have found it with Jacques-Henri. He saved my life.’
‘But, Lucille, this is my movie! Maybe I’ll wake up soon. I’ll find my head on my pillow in our home in Silverwood City. And all this I’ll forget as soon as I hear the alarm. Well, that’s how things should turn out, I guess.’
‘This sure ain’t no dream, Bud,’ Lucille insisted. ‘I do declare. You think I’d be in one of your dreams? Well, my, that’s just not right, Bud.’
‘So what’s happening to us, Lucille, baby?’
‘Well, pour moi, it is love.’
This surprised Bud. It surprised him a lot. He just did not associate Lucille with love. Love was about wild excitations, whereas Lucille always had seemed more the homemaker. Lucille always had been proud of her home, and pleased to be living in Silverwood City, a regular kind of place in the greatest country on earth. Lucille had never seemed the roving type.
On the other hand, Lucille was a French name. It was possible that she had heard the call from far away. Something had spoken to her in her mind. It must have been too powerful for Lucille (and, boy, was she strong) to resist its temptation. Bud had never been able to tempt Lucille, not once. Where he, the little guy from no place, had failed, something French had drawn her in.
‘You know,’ Bud remarked with a laugh in his voice, ‘in years to come, honey, you and I will be able to say “Well, we’ll always have Paris.” What you say?’
‘I say who’s the “we”?’
‘Bud, one day maybe you’ll understand. Or maybe not.’
‘I guess it’s about love,’ Bud said. ‘Here we are in the city where people fall in love like they never do back home. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? To fall in love before it’s too late. Me, I just love Paris. And maybe I’ll soon be back in Silverwood City, but I’ll always have this, and it won’t just be a dream.’
‘Something like that, Bud.’
‘Is there no love in America?’ Zouzou asked.
‘Not much,’ Bud replied.
‘I declare that is not true, Bud,’ Lucille protested. ‘When I was young I had some handsome beaux. I was the belle of my home town. I had the prettiest curls and the daintiest smiles.’
‘Lucille was different in those days,’ Bud explained. ‘We all were. But Lucille was real different. Yeah, there was love in America once.’
‘O-la-la,’ Zouzou declared, ‘now it is France, yes?’
‘Then, M’sieur Bud, you must stay. You can make things happen. Like this. It is you, is it not?’
‘Yeah, it’s me, all right. But, honest, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just thought that something a little French maybe. I didn’t expect anything serious to happen. Now it has. And the little guy from Silverwood City wakes up in Paris. And it’s my doing. I’m sorry.’
‘Please, do not apologize. It has been fun, n’est-ce pas?’
‘Sure has. That’s true. It’s been fun. Something French. Just what I wanted. Wait till I tell them back home. But I can’t, can I? I can’t say a word. No, I go home and say nothing.’
‘Then, M’sieur Bud, stay here in Paris and you can do everything.’
‘I do declare,’ Lucille interrupted, ‘Don’t I get a say in this, may I ask?’
‘Madame,’ the pelican explained, ‘it is simple: you have found love with your gendarme, Monsieur gets to remain here in the city of his dreams. C’est tout.’
‘Well, I don’t know. Whatever will they say in Silverwood City?’
‘It is no concern now, madame. You have fulfilled your destiny. For some it is to fight for France in the Legion. For others it is to play the accordion. And for some it is to dance the can-can. You, if I may say, madame, seem the heroic type. Perhaps only the Legion can satisfy the innermost yearnings of your beating heart.’
‘My, such sweet words I never thought I would hear again after poor Daddy passed away,’ Lucille replied, hurrying at last towards her gendarme.
‘Well, that just about wraps things up, I guess,’ Bud said. ‘My destiny is here for sure. I’m through with insurance. I’m through playing poker every Friday with a bunch of jerks who hate me. I’m through with living in a neighborhood where I’m the guy from the wrong side of the tracks. I’m through with watching movies in place of living the life I want. I’m through with everything except the boulevards of Paris.’
The pelican pulled out an enormous handkerchief to wipe a tear from his eyes. He explained that such moments as this always made him a little sentimental.
It was Zouzou who broke the mood of delicate sadness when she took the pelican’s beak in her arms and kissed it. Something she had never done before. And at once there was an explosion that made everybody gasp. The pelican, to general amazement, was no more. An enormous cloud of smoke took his place.
Then through that cloud appeared a young man the sight of whom made Zouzou shriek, ‘Jean-Claude! Is it possible? Can this really be you? No matter, for we are together again, and now we will never be apart.’ So saying, Zouzou embraced Jean-Claude whose return was a dream come true.
Everyone applauded. ‘Something French,’ Bud murmured, ‘Something French.’
And in the distance an accordion played as the Eiffel Tower came into view. It seemed to approach closer and closer, like a great beast that might leap up at any moment. There was no escaping the fact that this was the best movie a guy could ever see.
Kevin Finnerty's stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Manhattanville Review, Newfound, Portage Magazine, Red Earth Review, The Westchester Review, and other journals.
I met Ty about a half hour after my parents dropped me off at college. He came to my dorm room to introduce himself, though I didn’t know this for five minutes, because his roomie blocked him while he bragged about his sports prowess and uncle’s tech company.
Flipper failed to even mention Ty during his soliloquy. I only got to see the stick figure when the large, puffy dude retreated so he could repeat his story to the inhabitants of the next room.
“Van. Jackson.” My roommate first pointed at me, then himself.
Ty took a few steps towards us but his spindly legs soon buckled, and he tumbled into me. His head landed in my lap while I sat on my bed.
“Ta-da.” Ty jumped to his feet and offered us a magician’s bow before bouncing out of our room.
I vowed to stay away from that clowning kid. My goal that first day, and for most of the next four years, was to meet and be with as many women as I could. I didn’t see how spending time with Ty would assist me in my pursuit.
I soon realized I underestimated Ty’s ability to make me and most others laugh and the positive influence that has. People love a certain kind of madness. At least until the joker crosses the line. People can argue about where that line should be drawn, but there’s always a line.
Freshman year, Ty directed a lot of his pranks towards our fellow dorm residents who went to bed early, which, for us, was any time before midnight. Sometimes he’d start lightly tapping on their door. Just enough to wake the kid from his sleep, but not enough to cause him to answer. He’d increase the knocking as the minutes passed to let the person know he wasn’t going away. Then, after they announced they knew it was him and weren’t getting out of bed, he’d start pounding until they finally relented and opened the door.
“What?” The sleepy eyed guy would eventually meet Ty in boxers and a t-shirt.
“What are they serving for breakfast tomorrow?” Ty would ask his question as innocently as he could.
Some groggy students simply said, “Goodnight, Ty,” and gently closed the door. Others slammed it shut without a word.
Sometimes Ty played rough. He’d fill a large trash container with water and lean it against the door so that when the person opened it, the water and refuse spilled into the person’s room.
Ty combatted the angry stare or cursing of the guy with wet feet and soaked carpet with a lilting tone and minimalist message. “I meant no harm.”
Kyle, Jackson, and I always laughed at Ty’s late night shenanigans, but Ty preferred his pratfalls because of the spontaneous reactions they produced.
He loved tripping his way through a classroom, knocking into people and through desks, especially on the first day of a semester. Once a month, he’d fumble around the cafeteria and knock his tray or that of another and its contents to the floor and pretend it was an accident.
Most of all he loved running into a door, window, or other object at high speed. He’d sneakily brace himself with his arms just before he hit it flush, but those nearby wouldn’t see his defense. They only observed the crash and his collapsing to the ground. Then when they stood over him and asked if he were okay, Ty would jump to his feet, announce he was fine, and flee.
I understood Ty acted as he did to get approval in the form of laughter, but he also did it for us, his best friends. He knew after a while that a number of guys on our floor didn’t appreciate his late-night activities and occasionally reported his misbehavior, but Ty never refused to do our bidding.
If any of us had a beef with someone, we could always convince him to place a leaner against someone’s door, knock loudly, and flee with the rest of us. If any of us were ever down due to a bad grade, news from home, or whatever, there was Ty crashing into things, playing the fool for our benefit. And if ever we thought we’d seen it all, Ty would up his game by sliding on the ice around campus before crashing into a faculty member or a car filled with university security officers.
Ty never cared about the personal consequences to him. He always cared about the message above everything else. That never changed.
We attended a small, private university in the northeast. The sort of place that used to appear idyllic whenever captured on a glossy brochure.
I think the attraction was subconscious as much as anything. Adams University offered an escape from the rest of the world.
Located in a quiet, college town, Adams appeared removed from the problems of city life and the modern world as it were. For our parents, this may have created images of a safe place for study. High schoolers may have envisioned a teenage playground. A Shangri-la where college rules trumped those of the rest of society.
Or maybe I was alone in my delusions. I imagined a place where people lived and let live and experimentation was part of the expectation. An arena where you could do as you wanted as long as you didn’t really hurt anyone.
I now understand places like that don’t really exist. Maybe it’s why I ultimately became a lawyer. So as to have a better understanding of the rules I’d previously wanted to wish away.
As a freshman at Adams, I had no thoughts of law school. I wanted to indulge without consequences, without regulations, and befriended those with a similar attitude.
I remember the evenign that we played $10/game, $5/euchre in the hallway until a resident assistant named Sara told us to break it up.
“Why?” Jackson threw his cards onto the table as if a blackjack dealer had accused him of counting cards.
“For one, your neighbors are complaining of the noise.”
“I got to sleep. Finals start Monday.” Ty did a pretty good impression of our neighbors whining.
“And, second, you can’t drink out here.” The mousy sophomore pointed to Kyle, who rocked in his chair. “And he’s really gone.”
“He’s doing fine.” Jackson reached out and tapped his playing partner’s shoulder. “We’re only out here because we couldn’t play anywhere else.”
“You’re not allowed to drink in your rooms either.”
“Ah, but you wouldn’t know if we were doing it there, would you?”
Sara smirked. I still had a way to go to perfect the art of persuasion. “Why aren’t you playing in your room anyway?”
“Flipper’s with someone next door.” I could tell Sara wasn’t tracking. “You can go inside and listen if you want. Thin walls.”
“Just stop doing it in the hallway so I don’t have to write you up.”
We all sat there for a moment after Sara left until Jackson picked up the card table mid-hand.
“Hey, watch the beer.” Kyle missed grabbing his or anyone else’s before my roommate carried the table and everything on top of it down the hall.
“What you up to?” I was the only one still sitting.
“Same as always. It’s up to the black guy to find the solution.”
We found Jackson at the elevator bank. I presumed he had a room on another floor in mind, but he placed the table down inside the otherwise empty elevator and held it open. “Get the chairs.”
“Why?” Kyle took the opportunity to grab his mostly empty can from the table.
“In case you want to sit, Dumbshit. I don’t care, I’ll play standing.”
The elevator began buzzing. Apparently, someone on another floor wanted it.
Jackson waved goodbye to us as the doors slowly closed. “Press the button when you’re ready. I’ll be here.”
He was. We found him, the cards, and our drinks, along with two freshman girls, when it re-opened.
“You ladies up for a Vegas night?” I gently guided Kyle and Ty towards Jackson’s side of the elevator so I could stand closer to the co-eds while we all traveled to the lobby. “We’ve got a moving card game tonight.”
Those girls giggled but shook their heads and soon left us. I continued to toss out lines to all the ladies who entered and even offered to escort a few of them to wherever they were headed. Nobody except Jackson cared, and he didn’t really as long as I found someone to take my seat at the table so the game could continue. That wasn’t a problem because throughout the night we encountered more than a few willing to play a game or two.
Kyle ran back to our rooms whenever we needed more alcohol either for ourselves or our guests, though more than a few of our visitors willingly shared whatever they had as well. He always returned with more than we needed and an update of the scores of the games on which Jackson had placed bets.
Ty performed pratfalls by sliding under the table or throwing himself against the walls whenever we came to a stop. He picked himself up off the floor when two young women with heavy makeup who clearly thought they were out of our league entered on the first floor without smiling.
The prettier one raised her eyebrow and pulled out a cigarette. “Do you mind?”
“It’s not allowed.” Jackson didn’t take his eyes off the board while he shuffled.
“You guys going to complain?”
“Aw, don’t tell me you guys never smoke.” The friend offered us a pucker as she hit the button for the top floor.
“Just after sex.” I said this even though it wasn’t true because I thought it might provide a subliminal hint.
“How about you, Quiet Boy?” The smoker bent close to Ty’s ear and spoke in a sultry voice that belied her age.
Ty looked down upon himself, then shrugged his shoulders before delivering his variation of the old joke. “I never thought of checking.”
“You should.” The pretty one glided into Ty’s personal space and planted a kiss on his lips before escaping along with the smoke through the first crack in the door when it reached her floor. Her friend lingered and shook her head at us.
“It’s just a kiss, boys. Don’t go about getting hard. It’s such a small space.”
As soon as the door closed, Ty tumbled into the back of the elevator, crashed against it, and fell to the floor. We all laughed, but when he staggered to get back to his feet, he hit the emergency call button and brought the party to a halt.
“Hey, Sara.” The most sober, Jackson spoke when the R.A. returned to investigate.
Sara held the door open with her arm and scanned the room. Ty held his arms apart as if we were still moving and he was trying to keep his balance. Kyle still slid sips of beer past his lips even though he had his face planted on the table.
“I’m not sure I could count all the violations going on here right now.”
“Good thing Kyle is tutoring you in calc,” Jackson said.
Sara looked at Kyle, who lifted his hand as if he would shake Sara’s, but in doing so, knocked his beer to the floor. Fortunately, it was almost empty so little spilled out.
“Good thing he’s not doing so tonight.”
The elevator began to buzz having been called on another floor.
“Maybe you could let this go.” I offered Sara my pickup smile.
“Looks like I have to right now, but I swear I’m going to get a pen and the write-up forms and you guys better not be here when I get back with them.” She paused and looked at me. “Or anywhere else I can see you.”
Jackson dealt the cards quickly as soon as the door closed. “All right, we can get in one last quick game before she gets back. Don’t anyone be afraid to go alone.”
It might be tempting to blame our excesses on college life and say once we left our behavior changed. If anything, we were all probably worse those first few years after graduation. We all had a little bit of money then, so Kyle could afford to buy more drinks, Jackson could make bigger bets, and I could use my coin to try to impress the ladies.
Ty gave acting a go and left us in favor of California. I’m surprised he didn’t have more success, or any success as far as I know, but I don’t think his John Ritter-type schtick was in vogue at that time.
He returned after a year and a half but didn’t want to tell us much about his experiences. He appeared to have developed a sense of justice. One afternoon as we rode the subway, we stood near the exit beside this guy in a thousand dollar suit using his cell phone to communicate with his partner. “I was just there. I’m walking home now. Where are you?”
Ty and I shared a glance.
“Yeah, traffic’s loud. I’m just passing the Met.”
Ty grabbed the dude’s phone. “Don’t believe him. We’re in the subway. Listen!”
He held the phone to the subway door as our car rattled across the tracks and pulled into the next station. He tossed the device back to the guy who appeared too surprised to react and walked out of the car as soon as the door opened, even though we were still two stops from our destination.
I figured Ty was trying to find his way in the world like the rest of us. Trying to navigate through life from the point in time when others might be tempted to forgive our idiocy as the acts of young men to that undefined moment when we really needed to make better choices because we’d be viewed as not quite so young and not as worthy of leniency.
I helped Ty get an office job at a law firm where I’d just completed a stint as a summer associate but learned he was fired after only a couple of months on the job. Apparently, he’d sexually harassed a few women. I worried it reflected poorly on my judgment, but Ty’d never behaved like that in the past.
I called the gang together because I thought we all needed to talk to and about Ty. Kyle requested we meet in a bar. Jackson showed up with a pair of dice and had everyone place bets during the makeshift craps game/social gathering/intervention. He arrived first and grabbed the seat with the best view of the television so he could monitor the scores.
Jackson moved Kyle’s beer aside to clear space for me to roll the bones against the wall of our booth. They rattled about against plates and glasses but stayed on the table.
“Eight. Any more bets?” Jackson handed the dice back to me.
I shook them. “So what happened?”
“I need another drink.”
“You asking me?” Ty craned his neck about as if he were looking for a way to escape, but I had him boxed into the booth.
I rolled. “Who else?”
“Same?” Our waitress stood nearby.
I looked her up and down and agreed. She was about a seven. I’d take a shot later but returned my immediate attention to Ty. “Of course, you. Anyone else here have a problem?”
Ty opened his eyes wide and threw his head back with an exaggerated motion. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Everybody else here’s got a job or is in school.”
“What you doing these days, J?”
Jackson handed Ty the dice. “Ticket broker.”
“Legal or illegal?”
“Some of both. You’re up.”
Ty fired the dice against the wall so hard the pair went flying out of the booth.
“Not cool, Funny Guy.” Jackson pushed his way past Kyle to retrieve the dice.
“You can’t harass women. Especially after I stuck my reputation on the line to get you the job.”
“I didn’t do anything other than the same shit I always do. They couldn’t take a joke.”
“You can’t do that stuff in the workplace.”
“Why not? Don’t I have a First Amendment right to say whatever I please?”
“Not at a private business.”
Kyle belched. “He’s right. First Amendment only protects you from government restrictions on speech, not a private party’s.”
I was the one in law school, but we all knew Kyle was the smartest member of the group. He’d enrolled in a Ph.D. program in physics in the city right after undergrad.
Jackson returned with the dice, placed them in Ty’s hand and squeezed. “Keep ‘em on the table this time, shithead.”
Ty shook them for a minute without rolling. “Really?”
Kyle and I nodded. Ty rolled.
“Seven. A winner.”
We all changed, eventually. Some would say we matured. I couldn’t say whether those of us who found partners in the years that followed evolved beforehand or first found the person who helped us later develop.
Jackson started us off. He met Ellie at the place where he was engaged in legal ticket brokering. After he’d gained 50 pounds, lost most of the hair on his head, and added a proportionate amount to his face.
He and Ellie first decided to put their own money at risk and established a competing business. When that proved successful, they expanded operations. They decided to gamble their entire lives together but restricted their social wagers to amounts they could afford to lose.
Kyle met a colleague after he completed his Ph. D. and accepted a job out of state. I can’t say what happened exactly because I didn’t see him for a long time and when I did, he looked and acted differently. He just showed up at some point with Ofelia, a fellow faculty member in the physics department who focused on cryogenics.
Kyle had always been nerdy in appearance. He wore glasses and cheap, ill-fitting clothes. But, away from our influence, he’d shed them for contacts and more fashionable threads. He returned calmer, more poised, and much more frequently sober.
I guess I shouldn’t expect to understand what changed my friends when I can’t even explain how it happened with me. It’s not like I reached a certain age and thought I should alter my behavior. Or did so consciously after seeing Kyle and Jackson happy. I’d been happy with my life and my relationships with women. I think.
Then I met Angie. I tried to play her but she just humored me.
We first met at a party shortly after I’d joined my firm as an associate. She wasn’t a law student or a lawyer. She was and is an artist, and her work was on display at the gallery where the party was held. In fact, she stood near some of her work when we first spoke, but I didn’t put two and two together. Especially because she was dressed more like an attorney than an artist in her little black dress.
“So whose work do you like best?” I asked.
“I think that’s the question I should be asking you.”
I looked about. I hadn’t thought there’d be a quiz. I turned my back to Angie’s work and casually took in the room. Too much color for my taste. I pointed to a collection of metallic creations across the way. They looked like 3-D paintings of buildings and bridges the way they leapt off the canvas.
“Abbott, I like your eye.”
When I looked back towards Angie, I saw a series of black and white photographs over her shoulders. Portraits and landscapes that initially appeared dreary but which upon closer examination expressed humanity and earthiness. I met Angie’s eye and was about to modify my earlier response when Ty slid into my leg from behind and took me out.
“Safe!” He jumped to his feet and spread his ams like a umpire making his call known to 50,000 spectators.
I knew it had been a mistake to invite my friend, who ran from the gallery’s security as if he were a streaker on a ball field. He zigzagged his way across the room, seeking attention more than an escape route.
Angie took one large step towards me. “That your wingman?”
“You know, from here, your work takes on a new perspective.”
I meant her photographs but as she stood almost above me, her dress having inched its way up her long, sleek legs, I could almost see underneath. Maybe I could have had I tried, but I rolled my head to the side to resist the temptation and avoid detection. Angie placed her foot back in its original position.
A week later, I was walking past a coffee shop on my way to work when I saw her sipping java in a booth. She wore a plaid shirt and jeans. She sat with someone, but I stopped and went inside and intruded upon their conversation.
“I just wanted to say I was referring to your art work when I was on the ground the other night.”
“I know. I’m glad it floored you.”
“I’d say you did.”
“You would if we both didn’t know better, right?”
Our circles began intersecting so frequently I wondered if they’d previously done so and I’d simply failed to notice. After our fourth encounter, I asked her out. She immediately rejected me with a laugh, the pathetic shaking of her head, and an unwavering “no.” I tried two more times with the same result with perhaps the slightest hesitation the last time.
I thought I was out, having gone down swinging three times. So I stopped playing and I guess I changed. Angie probably realized this, as she’s more observant of my own behavior than I am, before I did.
Eventually, she took a chance when if I were her I wouldn’t have. She asked me out by referencing the times I’d asked her out like the offer was still outstanding. I didn’t say what I was thinking, which probably demonstrated that Angie was right. I was different.
Ty changed without the influence of a woman. He got an idea stuck in his head and wouldn’t let it go.
After being fired by the firm for sexual harassment, he obtained a position working on behalf of the State and immediately and purposefully began to harass female co-workers there. He no longer did so to make anyone laugh. He did it to make a point.
Ty claimed the First Amendment gave him an absolute right to express himself without “abridgment.” He’d found the term in the Bill of Rights and began inserting it frequently in conversations. That didn’t stop the State from terminating his employment.
“It’s not like I touched anyone.”
We sat at the same table at Jackson’s wedding reception. This was before Angie and I had ever gone on a date, and I thought I never would, so I was scoping possible prospects.
“I didn’t even proposition anyone, though I’d argue I couldn’t be punished for that either because those are just words too.”
“Courts don’t share that view.”
“You can’t be serious, can you?” Ofelia sat with us. She wore a checkered dress and spoke without the underlying levity I was accustomed to hearing among our core, and also with Ellie. “Kyle said you’re always joking.”
“I used to. But now that I’m older I think I have an important point to make. The First Amendment has to be absolute. Look at the text. It talks about Congress making no law abridging freedom of speech. So I can say whatever I please, wherever I please, to whomever I please, and the government has no business telling me I can’t.”
“Why don’t you verbally share state secrets with our foreign enemies and see where that gets you?”
I got to my feet. “Hey, who needs a drink?”
Kyle and Ofelia signaled they’d had enough with their hands.
“Ty, let’s go see if we can find some ladies to dance with us.”
Ty followed me and stopped making speeches that night, but I could tell Ofelia had not only failed to convince him of the error of his ways but had spawned in him new ideas.
Ty missed Kyle’s wedding. Not because he was he was angry with Ofelia but because by then his legal problems had grown. He was arrested after standing halfway through a movie in a crowded theatre and shouting, “Run, everybody, that guy’s got a gun!”
I told Ty in that instance his words were both false and unprotected and that he was putting people’s lives at risk with his behavior. He disavowed any responsibility and claimed if anyone was trampled it was the fault of the trampler, or even the tramplee for not being better prepared for the occasional sudden trampling one had to expect from time to time in our society.
“Wouldn’t you have felt bad if someone had been injured as a result of your stunt?”
“Not at all, but I’d offer them my thoughts and prayers nonetheless.”
He made it to my wedding. Barely. He was arrested two days earlier. He’d been selling sugar pills with various color coatings for months. He claimed they’d been shown to improve one’s memory, increase muscle mass, fight cancer, give you a hard-on, or do whatever else potential buyers wanted.
After bailing him out of jail, I threw Ty into a chair near my kitchen table. I thought I had to make a show of it before Angie, given the timing. After all, Ty was to serve as my the best man.
“That’s bullshit pulling that crap right now.”
“Cut it out.” Angie placed her comforting hand on Ty’s shoulder, and I knew I didn’t have any reason to worry. Angie liked Ty best among all my friends for some reason and had encouraged me to choose him for the special role. Maybe she saw in him the struggling artist she might have been hadn’t her talent been recognized. Or maybe she recognized the role he played in bringing us together. “How was it this time?”
“Same as always. For some reason, guys in the clink just aren’t into pratfalls.”
“One of these days you’re going to do something serious enough that someone’s going to look to put you away for a while.” Lawyers always feel the need to warn everyone of the potential legal consequences of their actions.
“One of these days somebody’s going to agree with me and acknowledge I have a right to say all the things I’m saying.”
I left Angie and Ty in the kitchen to talk. The problem with being a lawyer is after some time it’s hard to view the world, and especially our society, in any way other than through legal lenses. Ty could argue every day for forever about his interpretation of the First Amendment and his right to freedom of expression, but it was more than well established that people couldn’t use words to harass others or defraud them or cause a panic in a crowded theatre. No matter what the Bill of Rights said. Common sense had trumped madness in both the legal and political arenas.
Why couldn’t he understand this?
“He does.” Angie sat on the edge of our bed after Ty had left. “He just believes the law should be different and is willing to stand up for what he believes. It’s admirable.”
I scooted closer to her. “You don’t think he’s right, do you?”
“Of course not. It’s an absurd view.”
“So what do we do with him?”
“You guys were all extreme once too, right? Drinking, gambling, chasing women.”
Yeah, I knew we’d also been mad not so long ago.
“Ty’s never found the person to help him focus.”
“He’s never chased anyone or anything other than for laughs. And now the point he’s trying to make.”
“I can’t ever recall him really going after any woman.”
I stared at Angie and thought about this for some time. Maybe she knew my long-time friend better than I.
Angie exorcised my madness. For the longest time I’d believed the only perfect woman was the amalgamation of all of them.
Once I realized the error of my ways, I did everything I could to ensure Angie would have the wedding day she always wanted and deserved. Basically by staying out of the way and agreeing to whatever she wanted.
That turned out to be the right move. The service, reception, and honeymoon exceeded our expectations, but a day after our return Ty made his most elaborate plea. At 2:00 in the morning, he visited the home of an individual known to provide ardent, vocal support for certain constitutional rights.
From the public sidewalk outside the home, Ty used a bullhorn to express his absolute and uncompromising position in favor of First Amendment rights. He was arrested twenty minutes later.
Ty appeared defeated when I bailed him out of jail this time. He no longer displayed the slightest desire to make anyone laugh or to make a point while I drove him home.
“I thought at least he’d support me.”
“While you shouted at him through a bullhorn at two a.m.?”
“I thought the principle would be important to him. But you know what? I heard a gunshot. Yeah, and then the cops came a few minutes later. I was actually glad to see them for a change.”
I took my eyes off the road and looked over a couple of times to be certain Ty wasn’t kidding.
“So what was the problem this time?” he asked.
“Reasonable time, place, and manner restriction.”
“Nobody interprets the First Amendment as an absolute, do they?”
“Just you, buddy.”
“How much trouble am I in?”
“I wouldn’t worry about this one. He won’t press charges. He’d show himself to be a hypocrite if he did. Probably why the shot was fired first. Scared you more that way.”
“It did.” Ty tugged on my sleeve. “Sorry if I’ve acted crazy. I’ll repay those I defrauded. It wasn’t about the money.”
“And I didn’t mean to bother those women.”
I guided the car to the curb in front of the house where Ty rented a second story apartment. He asked that I wait for him because he needed to run inside to retrieve something for me. I watched as he raced up the stairs and missed the second to last one. He slid, bounced, and tumbled his way to the ground. It hurt just to watch my friend fall.
I quickly unbuckled my seat belt and bolted from the car. Only when I was halfway there and saw Ty sprawled on the ground did I remember. How I hoped he’d spring to his feet and yell, “I’m okay,” once I stood above him.
MEHREEN AHMED - THE BURAQ
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