Posts Tagged ‘Narrative’

South Texas is a place where memories linger. Perhaps the flat land, where one can see for miles around and in any direction, keeps memories tied to the land for there are no mountains to guide them upward into infinity. Matias had memories too.

As he sat there listening to Mrs. O’Shea read, as she did every Friday after the days work, a conflict arose within him. He had heard this story before but not the way Mrs. O’Shea was telling it. He sat intently listening to the story waiting to hear what he knew should be there. As the key words echoed in his head: “…Texans” “…Mexicans” “…Santa Anna” “…Fannin” “…massacre” he wondered whether perhaps his mother had been mistaken. Or, he thought with dread, maybe she had lied. Maybe she hadn’t been there. Maybe she hadn’t loosened the bonds of some of the Texan rebels. Maybe she hadn’t provided food and water and shelter in defiance of the supreme Mexican general’s orders to execute every one of them.

As Mrs. O’Shea finished the story about the Battle of Goliad, Matias ventured a question: Does it tell of a woman who helped the Texan rebels escape execution? Does it say that she helped loosen their bonds, provided food and shelter? Or that she gave them water to drink?

Mrs. O’Shea replied “No…” in a tone reflecting curiosity. Wondering in Matias’ direction she continued, “Why do you ask?”

My mother was the mate of Capt. Telesforo Alavez. She was there when those events took place.

Mrs. O’Shea shuffled through a few pages in deference to his question then firmly concluded “Matias, I’m afraid what you’re telling me is not found in this book.”

His first instinct was to cower in shame, he believed his mother after all.

How could this be? he thought. How could her efforts be left out only to be forgotten?

That’s it for today, es hora de cenar” concluded Mrs. O’Shea as she stood to her feet; and walking to the doorway of the school house, she placed the book on a desk nearby. Matias’ mind was bubbling with thoughts, the kind of thoughts that had him feeling like he was on a horse and hastily being taken somewhere. As she thought aloud in a rambling fashion about her plans for next Friday’s reading, her heels clopping against the wooden floor, Matias’ gaze remained fixed on the book on the desk. By this time, feelings of shame were rapidly spiraling into frustration and anger.

How could these damned gringos forget such a woman that helped save their life? he murmured to himself.

See you next week, Matias” said Mrs. O’Shea as she receded into the shadows of the schoolhouse.

A half-hearted wave was all Matias could muster in his pensive state. He walked slowly down the dirt road of the Santa Gertrudes ranch toward his house. The dust he kicked up as he walked in the South Texas heat gave him a tangible image of the storm brewing within him. As he approached the house he could see his mother at her chores and, already, he could smell dinner cooking. Today, however, he had not the will to determine by the aroma what was being prepared. The only smell that instantly found a home in his memory, as he walked in the door, were the freshly cooked tortillas that mounded the table.

Hola Mama, como estas? he asked, going through the motions of his usual routine; not wanting to alter anything that would clue his mother, Panchita, into the fact that this day was different.

Pos,” she sighed, “aqui hijito, haciendo que hacer” she replied as she removed the last of the tortillas from the comal. Looking up to gaze upon her oldest child, she noticed the pensive look on his face.

Matias, porque andas tan callado? Todo esta bein en el trabajo?”

Si mamma, todo esta bien. Alfonso le manda saludos.

Como les fue con la senora O’Shea?” she asked casually, unaware that she had struck the very chord of his troubles.

Todo fue bien. Muy bien pero una cosa me fastidio. La senora O’Shea leyo de la batalla de La Bahia Espiritu Santo. Y no habia ninguna palabra de que usted les ayudo al los Americanos. Nunguna palabra! Fue como si…como si no estabas ayi! Se olvidaron de ti mamma!

Noticing her son was close to tears, Panchita put the palote down on the table. And walking toward him gesturing with motherly affection to sit next to her, she consoled him saying,

Matias, el libro que leyo la senora O’Shea es una vercion de las batallas. Y si no hay mencion de mi, sera que no saben; no que se olvidaron. Basta que nosotros sabemos y acuerdamos de esos dias tragicas. O quicas, puedes tu educarlos! Quiero que sepas que nosotros Mexicanos nacimos del grito de Hidalgo y no del libro de los Americanos. Ven Matias, ya esta la comida.”

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A Platonic Upheaval

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Fiction
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Here I am and I don’t even know where to start. All I know is it began with her.  It always starts with a woman, doesn’t it?  From the highest plateau of the sublime to the deepest cry of existence, it begins and ends with a woman.  Everything anyone has ever known has begun as the result of a woman’s womb.  Without her, nothing could ever exist.  Without her, where I find myself today would never exist.  And it began innocuously enough.

I was at work, on a graveyard shift, and only about an hour into it.  The doorbell announced the future; yet another customer and the night was still young.  Pure instinct and not a little amount of experience forced my eyes upon the door, ready to greet the one who entered.  And there she was. She smiled, I smiled. But her smile was different; it took the form of one who knows a joke and can’t wait to heap it upon you.  I tried not to follow her trajectory, not at all wanting to give myself away.  I didn’t want to surrender the secret; that I thought she was beautiful. And besides, I had customers in front of me who needed my attention.  One, two, three and to the four, and then there was her.  I tried to maintain my composure.  On the inside I was hectic and rushing. Rushing and somewhat desperate like ol’ Seabiscuit chasing down War Admiral to get through every one of them.  Get through them all and get to her. And finally:

“Hello, will this be all for you?”

“Yes, this is all.”

Whether it was me, mired in hope, or whether perhaps it was her, I know not. But it seemed as though she were containing herself; like I had told her a joke and she couldn’t help but laugh. Well no, not laugh, a laugh would be loud and obvious. A giggle, it was a giggle. The kind of giggle that escapes even without your permission; like when as a youth you couldn’t keep from giggling in class. Even less so now that the teacher had warned you against it.  And to my surprise, she didn’t leave.  She took her purchase: small French Vanilla Cappuccino and Macadamia Nut cookies, and stood by the counter.  Another and another, they came. Customers presented themselves, each building the tension, hope and anticipation until, at last, there was a lull in business.

We talked. About everything.  About how I really didn’t mind 3rd shift because that’s when the interesting people come to the store. Do you mean drunk people? she asked.  Of course I do, I replied.  About how two nights ago she was driving back from Corpus with some friends and one of the more pretentious ones “sharted!” Had I heard this word before? she asked. Not really, no. I replied.

“Well, it’s when you fart and shit yourself at the same time!”

The cadence of her voice, the tone and inflection it took, by this time was already familiar to me.  Her laugh, which has became famous, first showed itself in this context.  About many more things we talked until every single customer became to me a bitter nuisance, moscas en la casa. Every purchase, precious minutes away from her.  The hour was approaching 2:30 am and I sensed our time was waning.

“I better go” she said, “Do you work tomorrow?”

“Yes, I’ll be here,” I said,  “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel”

By now, my nerves and anxiety were showing themselves. The cold self-doubt of me next to a bella farfellina was winning the day.  What an idiot, I thought to myself.

“Ok, I have some homework to finish so I’ll come by after for my snack!  See ya”

“Goodnight” I replied.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  And were it not for the sheer platonic upheaval of that night, I just might be persuaded.  Dull, right?  Droll, que no?  But I tell you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what a multitude have called chemistry was at work that night.  Here was a beauty for the ages, and we talked. Talked like it was meant to be.  Talked like eons of conversations supported the edifice of our friendship. Every word led to another like we had known each other before.  Like it was all beyond merely us.  This, you see, was part of her giggle.  A giggle she would later admit was beyond her and above her. A giggle she could no more control than I could control the torrent it caused within me.

This was day one, the most memorable day of January 2006.

By the next day, I was eager in anticipation.  Anticipation only a female can bring.  Getting up was no problem, getting around no big deal.  Life was soft around the edges.  I didn’t even dread going to work.  No, in fact, I awaited it.  With every entrance my eyes would cut across the store rapidly in large swaths of anticipation.  But my attention was on a simple desired observation: Was it her?  No. Another and no.  Then another, no.  Yet one again and, of course, nothing!  It wasn’t until I was, as we say in store vernacular, ‘in the middle of a customer,’ when to my longing eyes should appear, as the night before, my platonic upheaval.  She walked through the door with intentionality looking my way but once. And only once. She didn’t have to indulge me, her giggle informed me like an inside joke.  A thing only we shared to the exclusion of all others.  She giggled toward me, as it were, never once taking her attention off her desired goal: French Vanilla Cappuccino and Macadamia Nut cookies.

This time, however, she made herself at home.  And as I hastily rid myself of the pest the customers had now become she slowly pleasured herself, gastronomically speaking.

“Hey, you made it!” I said, trying desperately not to sound too happy.

“I know, it’s late! My homework ran longer than I thought.”

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“I’m practicing my Italian,” she informed me, “I’m going to Italy in February to learn the language for a class credit and I wanna be ahead of the course.”

“Really?! That is an amazing opportunity!” I bubbled, “Congratulations, I bet you’re excited?”

“Yes, I am. Very much so!”

“Say something in Italian!” I asked gleefully.

“No, I still suck at it!” she replied laughing, turning her head away from me pretending to walk away.

“Oh, c’mon!  Just one sentence or something!!”  I urged.

“Ok, ummm let’s see: “la notte è giovane e c’è molto parlare di”

I marveled at the beauty of it.  I knew not a word of what she had said but it was music to my ears all the same.

“What did you say?” I asked in complete curiosity.

She laughed, again pretending to walk away, “Something like: the night is young and there is much to talk about.”

A customer approached the counter and as I tended to him, she grabbed a newspaper.  In what was, I now know, her custom, she perused the classifieds for garage sales.  Turns out she bought and sold books, mostly on eBay, but also on occasional yard sales of her own. You know, for extra cash. And especially now with a looming trip over seas, she informed me she would be having one the following day.  Would I care to join her?  I don’t think I would have said yes any faster had she invited me to join her in Italy.  So with that, plans were made for the morrow.  And, again, I was in eager anticipation, for what by this point, was her sublime presence.  Just then, as she readied herself to leave, she leaned across me reaching to throw her wrapper into the bin.  I mustered the courage not to move and made myself an obstacle. The cusp of her shoulder grazed my chest and the fragrance of her hair filled every part of my being.  I couldn’t help but take in the breadth of her as she took the breath away from me by her close proximity.  I sighed and smiled. She noticed and smiled. And as she walked away and out the door, I missed her already.

All friends and lovers, brave sons and dear daughters turn ears my way! See my new found joy: she came as the morning sun and perforce drove many darknesses from my eyes. Bits and pieces they fell from my person like tiny scabs set in their way. As often happens on these bright and sharp mornings, when awake, the day presents herself in a thousand forms of splendor like the many faces of her.

This was day two and all manner of elation arose within me.

Death Waits For No One

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Fiction
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“Of what import are brief, nameless lives…”

You’re on your way to Corpus. It’s your mom again.  And you think just once you’d like to visit the Shoreline without a hospital visit as the only stop on the agenda.  You’d like to smell BBQ lingering in the air and the sun on the back of your neck; the thick stratified harmony of Los Exitos hanging on your every ear like candied butter.  The crisp hopeful punctuation of a can of an ice-cold beer being opened would be good about now, like that one summer trip to Rio Frio with your cousins and how your Tio offered up a can for you all to share. You even ponder what it would be like to feel the arms of your most Preciosa around your neck clinging onto you like the many waves that cling to the sand upon receding again into the Gulf.

But that’s not today.

Instead, you anticipate the cold sanitation of a hospital waiting room and the audible ticking of the clock as it beckons your most foreboding thoughts. Your sisters are with you, Y Gracias a Dios, because you’re not really sure how long you can keep claws onto sanity without them. You hold onto it and it reminds you of the frightened kitten on that tree behind your neighbor’s house from when you used to play hide-n-seek on Fordyce with your cousins. Wouldn’t it be kick ass if I could hide like that cat, you used to think. “The more things change, the more they stay the same” never meant more than it does at this moment.

The hum of the road down Chapman is distinct, and for a reason. The hum-n-clap of the tires as they traverse the as-yet-to-be-finished roadwork create a multitude of rhythms and you spend your time trying to superimpose a beat onto it. But you can’t because the impending scenario scares you. It’s getting dark and your sitting in the back of the car, imagining how you used to fit yourself on the floor behind the seat.

At Spohn-Shoreline, it’s become one of those grim family reunions. One of those it-is-only-a-matter-of-time reunions that gathers even the remotest of your Tias and you all try desperately to get through the night by laughing a lot.  After the laughter subsides, as it always does, and before the silence takes hold an argument breaks out between the still Roman Catholic side of the family and the ever growing Evangelical side about which particular theology will guide your mother into the next world if and when she dies.  And it hits home just how much your family has grown apart over the last few years because it rapidly stops being about your Jefita and becomes more about who is right and who is wrong.  A nurse randomly interjects her ½ a cent by quoting John 3:16 and condescendingly emphasizing  “…he gave His only begotten son…”

From one ardent Evangelical Tio comes,

“Well the Pope is no one special, the Holy Spirit works through all of us who are saved in Jesus. We need to pray for healing!”

Your Tia, who’s still rocks it old school, fires back,

“The Pope carries the authority of Jesus himself through Apostolic succession, only he can rightfully petition God for healing, all we can do is pray for God’s will to be done!”

Similar Inquietudes ensue concerning all the big, big questions “Catholics and Christians” (one freshly born-again cousin insists on the misnomer) fight about: the Virgin Mary, more about the Pope, faith vs. works, the role of suffering, etc. ad nauseum etc.

And then there’s the waiting. The incessant waiting.

Times like these you find the strangest things to occupy your time, like taking really long to pick something from the vending machine: “You always get a damn Hershey bar, how about some chips?” you argue. Through this little inner litigation life’s endless minutia reveals itself and gets its due: “Oh look, a Payday!”  Or maybe you could get away for a bit and walk across the street to the Whataburger for a quick bite. But you talk yourself out of it. If anything should happen, and you know it will as soon as you leave, you’ll never forgive yourself for being so selfish.  And so you stay, making due with the growing emptiness in your stomach.

Speaking of Whataburger, a recent event recurs  and weighs heavy on your mind. The albatross of this guilt is an immensity. About two weeks ago, when it was your turn to watch her, you were hanging out with your fiancée watching TV.  From a distance the bell was ringing; from a distance your moms was calling. It was about midnight and you thought she was asleep. She asked if you had eaten, as any good mother would, even such a  mother as this: condemned to vast amounts of time on a hospital bed the government provided, healing from the fresh amputation of her right leg just below the knee. Open scabs, some of them bleeding, have formed pell-mell on her arms, the remnants of minor skin wounds that heal so very slowly, if they heal at all. And the emotional angst that inevitably arises has stolen the joy from her eyes. But still, the way she asked was not completely genuine. Her passive aggression shone through, she was hungry but she didn’t want to bother you just for her own sake. She wanted Taquitos: sausage, egg and cheese Taquitos from Whataburger. They are her favorite. But you wanted to be a good son and hold her to the higher standard of eating her diabetes demanded. So you said,

“No mami, it’s too late for that, maybe tomorrow. Do you want cottage cheese and peaches?”

Thing is, you too were not completely genuine. You were very comfortable on the couch watching TV, making out with your future wife during the commercials and, besides, you didn’t want to drive. It was late. “Tomorrow” never happened. And here you are two weeks later, possibly in the midst of your mom’s final hours on earth, and you’re not sure if she ever satisfied her Antojito. This thought fills you with shame, rage and disgust.

”Why didn’t you just go you dumb ass; you fucking selfish troglodyte. Eres Un Pendejo Bien Hecho!”

Your brother hasn’t arrived yet, still en route from New York, and you’re strangely thankful that he decided to move so far away and that it‘s been so long since he‘s visited, because you just know your moms ain’t giving up the ghost before seeing him.  He was the brave one and the one she most worried about.  Even if most of his courage was spent getting in trouble, you still admired him. Because he was older, he’s the one who taught you how to shave. How to use foot powder for your stinky feet; to light a match for your doubly stinky shits. Explained what that off milky substance was that shot out of your Pinga when you jacked-off. And how to score points with the chics: dance with them Hound, just dance–they’ll love you for it!  He’s the first one on the floor and the last one off it. You’ll never forget the time he taught you how to look at a chic’s tits without getting caught and how he made you promise never to tell anyone. A magician never reveals his secrets he said; or the time he gave you your first hit of weed: “just one, Hound. And don’t tell Mami!”  Nambe I won’t, you  said. It was him who showed you all the shit your dad would’ve taught you had he been around.  His audacity has always mystified you. He moved out of the house early and never looked back. Lived in more towns than you have fingers. And you’ve lived most your life eager to shed a pound of your “brains” for even an ounce of his temerity. You can’t wait to see him.

And then there’s the waiting, the incessant waiting.

It’s not like you didn’t expect this. All of you did.  Diabetes is insidious like that. It’s not like a car accident or, Ni Lo Mande Dios, a murder. It’s not even like cancer where one is diagnosed and then you have to do all sorts of awful shit to get better, whether chemos or curanderos. No, diabetes sneaks up on a motherfucker. It’s doom-ish that way, revealing itself only after years of living out your hardened (hard earned?) habits. All that shit that makes you, well, YOU!  When diagnosed, one has to NOT do what by this point in your life comes so naturally you might as well be asked to stop being Tejano. And being asked, no; being forbidden to be Tejano has been asked of your people one too many times.

Intensive care has a plethora of rules: visiting hours end at 8pm.  No kids under fourteen. No more than two visitors at a time. Quiet please. Wash your hands before entering. Don’t breathe too heavy! Your two oldest sisters go first and that first moment without them is hard. You’re not alone to be sure.  Your lovely is with you and your cousins too; as are sundry Tios and Tias. You’re not alone but that don’t mean your not lonely. The anticipation of seeing her crawls cold on your back, the fear is setting in. You tell yourself it can’t be any worse than at home.  But even if this comforts you for a time, that solace quickly abandons you as your sisters return, signaling that it is your turn to go in.  And because they love your fiancée, she’s allowed to accompany you even before other member of your family.

Psst, KKshhh, beep.beep.beep…Psst, KKshhh, beep.beep.beep…

Instantly your tears fall.  It’s nothing like at home.  At home she talked and looked at you.  Here, she’s but a shell of flesh with not even the strength to open her eyes. Much less look at you, talk to you or console you. Tell you she’s OK; that she doesn’t feel any pain or that she’s not scared shitless. And really, that’s all you want to hear. That is all you want to hear; hear it from her and no one else. You get closer and touch her hand, paying desperate attention to every wrinkle of it. Caress her forehead and do your best to comb the shambles her hair has become with your fingers. You kiss her and for the first time in your life: No response.

Your lovely hugs you and tightly, wanting to take your pain into herself or at least share the half of it.  Embraced, you both sway in the coldness of the room; encompassed by silence. Silence and:

Psst, KKshhh, beep.beep.beep…Psst, KKshhh, beep.beep.beep…

Just then, you catch a glimpse of her eyes opening.  You abruptly pull away from the shelter of your Preciosa’s arms.

“Hola Mami,” you say. “You look good.”

Her eyes cut toward you but she can’t speak, tubes all up in her nose.  Her eyes roll around the room until they rest again upon you. They’re cold and distant and blinking a lot, as if she don’t recognize you or that she can’t believe her surroundings; where she’s ended up. Or maybe she’s trying to figure a way to speak to you with just her eyes.

“We’re here, Mami. Both of us”

Her eyes darting between you and her, you can only hope she’s comforted by the fact that you’re not alone in life, with only your sisters left to care for you.

“Maybe, she wants your permission…” she suggests. Permission for what? you ask.

“You know, maybe she needs to know you’ll be OK if she’s tired and can’t fight anymore.”

But you can’t bring yourself to even entertain the thought. And so you just hold each other; both of you holding her hand.

Your very own Nurse Ratchet enters and hardly taking the time to look at you, she bids you both to leave the room so she can do her thing. You bet that she probably doesn’t even remember the theological bitch-slap she tried on your sparring Familia not two hours ago. It’s getting late and the whole family is tired. And besides, visiting hours end in thirty minutes so people rush to see her, no longer paying attention to the rules. Four and five people are up in the room but you hang back, wanting to give them space. Eventually, those that can’t take the sight of her leave sobbing out the room until only your sister remains.  You stare at them, sis crying and talking to her. And because your lovely loves her and feels a special connection with her, she goes to comfort her. You hang back, wanting to give them space. Your timid non-assertive self, the very nature you got from your mom, who always seemed to heed the rules, doesn’t allow you to simply go in; disregarding the 2-person limit. You want to, desperately want to, but you don’t want to piss off the doctor or nurses.  And so you hang back, wiping the tears from your eyes; thinking you’ll see her again tomorrow anyway, when your brother is here.  We’ll see her together, you say.

“Tomorrow” never comes. And your mother, the only tangible, palpable God you’ve ever really known, passes on into the next world over night.

Death, it seems, waits for no one.

A Chronicle of “Barnia”

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Fiction
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Mr. Maldonado

It seems like a crossroads of existence and for a small town it might as well be.

You know, for a place like Kingsville which is ripe with paradox (a curse-of-a-small-town nestled within the largest ranch in the world) their lives seem so mundane. That is if by mundane one means lives broken and perplexed, triumphant and forward looking, overworked and under paid like the rest of the world but in the microcosm that is small town living; taking what this life gives and making anything out of it, whether the best or the acceptable. I have the lot of seeing them everyday in this endeavor.  It’s my job.

The frantic mother, always late, hurrying to buy breakfast for her kids before school; the still sleepy student who, in frustration, informs me that he still can’t remember Avogadro’s number for his Chemistry quiz in 30 minutes–Red Bull, please!  And Anna: sweet, precious, efficacious Anna, every time I see her I can’t help but hum the chorus to Rod Stewart’s Some Guys Have All the Luck which tugs my heart into a platonic oblivion.

And then there’s Mr. Maldonado.

I  have often sat in judgment of his drinking habits which start bright and early as the dew.  He drives into the Party Barn with his fingers raised in a “V” which is his sign letting me know he wants two Bud Light scuds.

Dame dos, he says, making sure I’ve gotten his order right.

Sometimes he springs for Camel Filters, always in the soft pack. He is always joking. Most times, shit he says is not at all funny but I’d like to think he jokes anyway just to have a reason to let out his raucously big laugh; a laugh fraught with all the character that years of cold beers and cigarette smoke have given him. A laugh as deep and varied as the insistent wrinkles on his face. My judgments often take the form of snide remarks held within myself. Thoughts like, ‘ah, yes, the breakfast of champions’ or ‘are you on a liquid diet or what?’ and I indulge in little victories. I’ll never forget the time my judgment came to a stark halt when, as usual, he drove in;  his grey Toyota Camry sporting a spare tire.  The lack of “the signal” became obvious only later.

Como estas, sir? Dos? I asked.

Si dame los dos.

As I plunged my hands into the icy water that held the beer, he solemnly informed me: Se me murio mi vieja a noche, his voice cracking along the fault lines of his sentence structure.  It took a few seconds for it to register: No pendejo, this is no joke.  And his words brushed cold upon me like the water that surrounded my hand.

Apenas vengo del hospital, he tells me.

I look at him wondering if I should say anything at all or whether to let my silence speak for me and just listen.  And really, what could I say that has any semblance of meaning. All I can think to say is what I’ve heard my mom and countless elder relatives say at news like this: pero como? It turns out diabetes had struck its interminable changes upon yet another soul.

No se que hacer ya;  voy a tomar hasta que muero yo tambien.

He followed this foresight with a rather shallow laugh, like he was half joking. But the tears in his eyes told a different story.  Commerce is cruel in times like this, you know.  With such emotion hanging in the air refusing to be denied or supplanted or overlooked, the price of his purchase lingered like the proverbial white elephant in the room, oh-so-ready to burst the bubble of poignancy he had created:  $4.52, sir…

Ten, aqui tengo unas pesetitas.

He continued,  pos, que le hacemos? Alla vamos todos, he bleakly surmised.

That’s true, I offered. I’m sorry to hear about your wife Mr. Maldonado. Que descanse en paz, eh.

Ojalah que pueda, era bien repelona mi vieja.

And there it was, like a gritty refugee breaking through the tyranny of grief, his laugh. His BIG raucous laugh. His grand laugh.  His I-miss-her-so-much-I-just-wanna-fuckin-die laugh. It was morning, about 8:30 am, and the cars where stacking up behind him.  The morning rush had overtaken ‘the Barn’ and not even the death of  the cherished one could stop that. And so with polite acceptance he bid farewell and drove away.

It seems like a crossroads of existence and for a small town it might as well be.