Excerpts 

From:What Have We Become

I followed his description of the overwhelming human emotions that seized him alone in the cramped cockpit, puking from fear into the map case only to discover too late it was too small to hold it. Hallucinating --hearing his father berate him for getting himself  "into this goddamned mess." Screaming "Bullshit!" into his radio when one of the flight officers, trying to coax him into attempting another landing suggested  "Just think of it as the first time you rode a bicycle." Watching the fuel light flicker until it became solid red. In his words, the signal that "it was time to get the hell out of there."

He ejected. Exited the aircraft over a black ocean with no idea where he would come down or how he would survive if they couldn't reach him. Underwater, completely enfolded by heavy waves, he fumbled to find the toggle on his life vest. Unable to breathe, he finally yanked it free and shot to the surface, wobbling side to side like an out-of-control elevator. 

From: Concerto for a Spring Night

Perry Howe was a dreamer. When his dreams faded, he tried to get them back with whiskey. More than once, broke and thirsty, he would find Beemo Manville's car on a whisky run with the trunk open. Before the bootlegger could get back to his cache, Perry had sneaked a gallon of moonshine and was off in the woods by the river where a chase would have been too much trouble. 

Everyone except the bootlegger accepted Perry for what he was---a dreamer and not much for full-time work. But he could do something no one else in the county could. He played the fiddle. He coaxed melodies from his old violin that stirred the rural folk to cheers and applause and shouts of "More, Perry!"

From:  Now Would Be Forever

Good days, Henry went about his work with his old enthusiasm. At other times--and there were many--the will to work, to hope, to believe in tomorrow, was pushed away by despair. But whatever the day might be, at the end of it Matilda would find him at the top of the ridge, staring at the distant county road searching for the lone traveler. If he were there, the traveler, looking up, would wave as he turned into the lane leading to the farmhouse.

One fall afternoon, when the sun was in no hurry to disappear behind the trees, when all of nature seemed to stop and breathe before dusk colored the west, he was there, waving at the man high up on the ridge. But the man, the one with sad eyes and the slump in his shoulders, knowing it was not to be, that bitter disappointment was all there was, all there might ever be, turned--disconsolate -- toward the house. 

Perhaps God had heard Henry above the chaos of despair. Perhaps the God whom Mathilda feared was not a jealous God,  but a caring one. But most certainly, it was God who smiled on the man on the ridge that afternoon. 

In Henry's path stood a young man with a backpack slung across his shoulders. A young man with a familiar face, a familiar smile. "Hello, Papa," he said, rushing with open arms to greet his father. 

From:  The Play-Pretend of Angelica Marie Rene Underwood

Whomever she was, whatever accent she was using at any particular time, she was already on her way to becoming something or someone else. Her moods swung in a sweeping arc from unspeakable sadness at a sparrow limp and dead on the sidewalk to silent anger at persons who doubted her authenticity when she was anyone but herself.

       Why did I not understand what raged inside you? When you asked me --How do I even know I

        exist?--why did I laugh and answer with such callous unconcern--Simple. As long as you're here, you exist.          When you are no longer here, you don't. I hear those words in bitter replay over and over and  over. In the          cold of winter, when melancholy invades my head and heart and I know  you are sleeping somewhere                 under a blanket of snow--how I wish I could take them back.

She introduced herself to me when we were both eleven. My family moved into the neighborhood where she and her mother lived. Through our open front door, I saw her watch the movers bring in our furniture, eyeing each piece critically, as if appraising it to later sell at auction. When the movers took a smoke break, she wandered inside. I was about to go upstairs with a box--Kenny's Room scribbled on it in bold black marker.

"Hello, Kenny's Room. I presume you are the new occupant. I am Angelica Marie Rene Underwood. I live three houses south. You and I should become friends. Consider it. I expect to see you soon." With a ballet twirl and a wave, the strange girl-child skipped halfway down the loading ramp, jumped to the sidewalk and disappeared. I stared after her, uncertain if she were tethered completely to reality.

From: Come Before Winter

The letter came Thursday when the gauzy days of late summer were slipping away into breathless anticipation of fall. I sat to read it in splattered sunlight on the front porch. First sentence in, I wanted to rip it apart.

"Dear Kevin: I know I'm the last person you want to hear from but I must write to you now. They tell me I only have a couple months to live. Cancer that began in my right lung is now in control of my body and doctors say nothing  can be done to stop it. I want to have one last meeting with you to explain things and ask you to forgive me. Come before winter. I won't last much beyond that. Your father....Thomas."

"Bullshit!"  I shouted above the angry roar in my skull. He's dying in some faraway city where he, without a doubt , has drawn the shades and sits with his best friend Johnny Walker. JW Red, to be exact. Facing his end, I imagine he has surrounded himself with at least a dozen bottles.

I can read between the lines. He only half understands what's happening to him. Struggling to breathe, the disease leaves him no space, no room to move or to think. He feels a desperate pull to return to life as it was, the selfish life he dictated--a book of pages without margins. Life before it changed him, without his permission, into something or someone else. 

It was a demand even to the time--come before winter--from someone who has no right to demand anything from me. He took from me my self-confidence, my perspective, and gave me anger and resentment in return. He made me a mere visitor in my own life. 

© 2018 D.D. Tarpenning

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