Healing Waters

Invisibility is a fickle mistress. Like any mistress, she is utterly fascinating; the subject of legend and story. From the Brothers Grimm to J.R.R. Tolkein to Marvel Comics, authors have been mesmerized by the possibilities such a gift bestows. But also like a mistress, invisibility comes with a price — often a very steep price.


Althea Waters had the gift of invisibility. She discovered the gift early on, in the first and second grades. When some classroom honor or privilege was to be bestowed, Althea would strain at the confines of her desk, fingers outstretched to their limit as her arm waved wildly. But it would always be one of the popular girls, one of the pretty girls who would be chosen. Once, and only once, Althea worked up the courage to ask her teacher why she had not been selected only to be told, “Did you have your hand up? I didn’t see you.”

Disappointing as that was, Althea often found the gift to be useful, as when students were called to demonstrate their knowledge of mathematics or geography or science before the entire class or when distasteful chores were being assigned. However, she quickly learned not to rely completely on the gift. All too often it failed her, such as on her solitary walks home from school when the mean girls spotted her from half a block away. The seventh of eight children, Althea found her gift of invisibility to be just as effective or just as capricious at home.

As Althea matured, she learned better n

how to control her gift and as importantly, when not to depend on it. As always, there was a price to pay. Invisibility might render her immune to layoffs at work or the machinations of her eldest sister who had taken upon herself the role of matchmaker. But it also meant she was overlooked for promotions or the attentions of attractive men.

Career moved Althea three hours away from her family, and to her multitude of nieces and nephews she truly was invisible. They were always surprised to receive a birthday card or Christmas present from her even though those events happened every year. As she aged, invisibility visited Althea more frequently, settling upon her shoulders like a soft cloak. After her retirement party, she could scarcely remove it ever.

Only at church was Althea fully visible, but even there, not to everyone or all the time. She was a dutiful church lady, creating delectable dishes and prize-winning desserts for pot-lucks, christening parties, and funerals. But come her own birthday, or special anniversary, the cloak would settle about her once more.

As accustomed to solitude as Althea was, the lockdown due to the pandemic brought no significant changes to her weekly routine, except for missing church. She had long since taken to making nightly rounds of her neighborhood in the wee hours. An arthritic hip frequently required her to use a cane by day, but at night she preferred her walking stick — a thick linden tree branch that was taller than she. Her younger brother expressed occasional concern about the dangers of the night, but Althea walked the blocks and passed the darkened houses unseen, the hollow thump, thump, thump of her stick the only witness to her rambles.

As the spring daylight lengthened and temperatures warmed, Althea took to sitting on her porch, soaking up the westering sun. The children from the house across the way playing in the street took no notice of her. Sometimes a sparrow even perched on the porch rail a few inches away or a chipmunk would run right over the toe of her shoe.

So it came as a shock the day the tranquility of her routine was broken. She was enjoying the spring sunlight as usual when Lori, her neighbor to the north stumbled out of her house, weeping. Lori blindly flung the phone in her hand and it soared over the porch rail to land at Althea’s feet. Lori’s weeping turned to wails. Althea picked up the phone and limped down the steps to return it. A shocked gasp stayed Lori’s cries for just a moment and then she fell into Althea’s arms. Flouting all conventions of social distance, the two women clung to each other for an eternity. Finally, Lori was able to speak. Her mother, Dorothy, had had a major stroke. She had been taken by ambulance from her nursing home to the hospital. She had not regained consciousness and was not expected to live through the night. Because of the quarantine, neither Lori nor anyone in her family could visit. Lori’s mother was going to die alone. A car pulled up and Lori’s husband Ted clambered out. He rushed to the women and took his wife in his arms, then led her, still sobbing, indoors.

An hour after sundown, Althea drove to the hospital and parked in the empty ramp. Walking stick in hand, she approached the locked doors. They opened for her, but the security guard never looked up. She had the room number for Mrs. Michalski and rode the elevator to the third floor. She passed mostly empty rooms until she reached the intensive care unit. Four nurses sat at the station closely observing a set of monitors. Althea slipped into Mrs. Michalski’s cubicle. Other than telemetry wires, the woman in the bed was not hooked up to any machines. Perching her good hip on the side of the bed, Althea took the woman’s cool, wrinkled hand into her own and began to speak. “Dorothy, I want you to know that Lori is heartbroken that she can’t be with you. She loves you so very, very much. But I’m here, and I won’t leave until you’re ready to go.” Althea felt just the slightest return pressure and then it was gone. Softly, Althea began to sing, “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart…” The pauses between each of Dorothy’s breaths became longer and longer until the silence was shattered by a strident beeping and the monitor displayed a flat green line.

Althea backed into a corner of the cubicle, clutching her staff as nurses swarmed in. They noted the time of death, unclipped the monitor and drew the sheet over the still form. Althea followed them out and began walking back to the elevator.

There were nine other cubicles in the ICU and all the beds were filled. Althea turned back. In the room next to Dorothy’s, a man lay attached to a ventilator. Althea took his hand. She felt a strength, a springiness, a fighting spirit in that hand. Smiling, Althea bent close and whispered in his ear, “All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all shall be most well.” After uttering a brief prayer and singing another hymn, she slipped into the next room. In each, she held a hand, smoothed a brow, whispered a prayer and sang a hymn. She stayed longer in some rooms, where the hands she held lay limp in her own. It was past 3:00 in the morning when Althea left the last room.

Althea had found her calling. The next night she returned to the hospital. She stood for a while at the nurses’ station listening to the chatter. “Isn’t that something about Mr. Woodman?” one of the nurses said.

A young man answered her, “I didn’t think he would ever come off that ventilator, but when I extubated him, the first thing he said was an angel had visited him and told him all would be well.”

Althea smiled. That night she stayed almost until dawn, going from room to room. She said a final benediction over two of the patients. The next night, she went back…and the next…and the next. Two weeks later, Althea woke to a world of pain. She felt chilled as the heat poured off her body and her sore throat was shredded by a dry cough. Althea knew what was to come but felt no fear.

Invisibility has its price.



“Done!” David Brynn signed the contract with a flourish.

“Congratulations, Mr. Brynn. It’s all yours.” Alice Showalter handed David the keys. The hundred-year-old bungalow and all of its contents, was now his very own. Well, his and the bank’s. But with mortgage payments half of what he’d been paying on his lakeside condominium, plus profits from the condo’s sale, David was confident he could cover the expense even in his reduced circumstances. It did seem odd to him that the sale included all the contents of the house and garage, but when he asked Ms. Showalter whether the owner might want some items, she told him that she had been told by the owner’s son to just get rid of it all for whatever she could get. David felt no small amount of pride that he had negotiated the sale all on his own without help from his mother, Madalynn Brynn — owner and top saleswoman of Brynn Elite Realty. He checked himself — almost without her help. Madalynn had gotten top dollar in selling his condo.

David pulled his five-year-old Jeep onto the weedy gravel parking space next to the slightly listing, one-car garage. The Jeep seemed far more comfortable in this setting than had his Range Rover. He would have pulled into the garage but it was full. Besides the 1963 Rambler Ambassador resting on its flattened tires, the building held a host of Sarah Kondrazyk’s garden tools and machines — a rusty reel mower and two gas powered mowers of questionable vintage, along with David’s bedroom set and moving boxes of his belongings. As he inserted the key into the bungalow’s back door, David was overtaken by an emotion he could not recall experiencing since boyhood. He was home.


David Brynn was a nerd. There really was no other word to describe him. After his plastic surgeon father’s death when he was eight, and his mother’s subsequent marriages and divorces, David had taken to his room. There he discovered and got lost in a world of numbers, algorithms, programming languages and codes. He kit bashed the 486 his mother had given him for Christmas one year, and from then on there was no stopping him. He was just barely sixteen when he started college and nineteen when he graduated.

A bizarre encounter in a gay bar during his senior year — the result of a prank pulled on him by his jock-star roommate — led to a business partnership with Marty and Geoff. Three years into the venture, when his salary was in kissing distance of six figures, his mother insisted he needed living quarters in keeping with the prestige of his career. With the real estate market still reeling from the 2008 housing bust, Madalynn negotiated a phenomenal deal for the three bedroom, two bath, seventh floor unit. The nighttime views of Chicago and the daytime views of Lake Michigan were stunning. David’s older sister Marilyn, a successful interior designer, took charge of furnishing and decorating the condo. Everything from the oil and vinegar cruets in the kitchen to the art on the walls to the shower curtains, was the ultimate in post-modern decor — stainless steel, chrome, black, and grey. The exception was David’s bedroom. He had been gifted with his maternal grandparents’ bedroom set when Grandma Flo had given up her house for an assisted living apartment. The waterfall design of the bureau, with its huge round mirror, dresser, nightstands, and headboard in a warm walnut veneer with honey maple and ebony inlays was definitely out of place. But it gave David a feeling of connection with his beloved grandparents. Madalynn and Marilyn had given exasperated sighs at his intransigence on the issue and said, “Fine! Just keep the door closed when you have company.” Not that David had much time for guests. He traveled frequently as he set up the tech and trained staff for his business franchises scattered across the country, Canada and Mexico.

At 32, David was at the top of his game. Although most days he made the short commute to his office in the Loop, he also worked late into the evenings from his computer room at home providing tech support to the franchises. Despite the high profile career and condo, the long hours and his own introverted nature led to a frugal lifestyle. While an expense account covered elegant meals when he traveled, at home David preferred his own cooking — a style he called Midwestern Farmhouse. His two extravagances were his computers, tablets, and phones and his car — a Range Rover he purchased new every other year. Between the trust fund from his father and his own savings, David was an eligible bachelor indeed. Although that was about to change. He had recently become engaged to Steffi, a woman introduced to him by his sister Marilyn.

Then came the novel corona virus. David’s company was an essential business and David was well equipped to work from home, as was his secretary Esther Thomas. His partners, Marty and Geoff, not so much. Promotion, marketing, and sales, their areas of expertise, suffered from a lack of face-to-face contact. As the weeks dragged on, the partners agreed to a significant pay cut. It wasn’t a hardship for David. He didn’t miss the travel.

But then the lockdown was extended. It was the middle of May when he received an urgent summons from Esther. A secret meeting was taking place at the office. David arrived just in time to learn that Marty and Geoff had sold the company to the Chinese. He also learned that due to negligence on his part in failing to read the terms of his latest contract, he was out of a job. And so was Esther, albeit they both had handsome severance packages. Madalynn, of course, was furious with him for his carelessness. Worse, as he explained his need to downsize to Steffi, she broke off the engagement.


Finding the bungalow was a happy accident. Though over a century old and much neglected, it had good bones, a sound roof, and a dry basement. It had languished empty on the market for three years. When Madalynn discovered it also had historical significance and that David refused the services of her favorite architect to turn it into a showplace, she threatened to buy it out from under him, but David had been a few steps ahead of her. Now it was his — two bedrooms on the first floor, one Pepto-Bismol pink bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, enclosed back porch, and attic, — all fully furnished circa 1972. Not to mention the one-car garage complete with car. The only furniture David had brought with him from the condo was his bedroom suite and computers. Still, to move his stuff in, he had to move a lot of stuff out.

Esther Thomas had the solution. While old, the beds, dressers, easy chairs, recliner and sofa were all of top quality and in good condition. Esther’s church had a list of families in need of home furnishings. She also had connections. A cousin had a trailer. A nephew led the youth group at her church. And so, at 8:30 on a Saturday, Esther, her cousin, nephew, two girls and four boys from the youth group showed up to clear out the bungalow. David had decided to keep the kitchen and dining room tables and chairs, but the rest could go. The living room was easy. The big pieces were quickly carried out. There was some debate as to what to do with the Sauder entertainment center but when the boys got it outside and dropped it, it collapsed. There was no debate over the analog television set. No one wanted it. It and the round shouldered refrigerator would go to a recycling center some other day. The bedrooms were next. And while the beds were easily disassembled the bureaus presented a problem. They were filled with Sarah Kondrazyk’s clothes. The closet in the back bedroom was also full. And though David knew that Mrs Kondrazyk had been a widow for twenty years before her son moved her into a nursing home, it still held men’s clothes. The underthings were bagged up for disposal. The youth group girls, however, were excited to see the retro clothing and begged to take it. David was happy to let them. Finally, the bunk beds from the attic were carried out to the trailer. David would have liked to rip up the brown and orange shag carpet once the living room was empty, but that was a project for another day.

Once the large items were out of the house it was time to tackle the small pieces. The built-in shelves of the dining and living rooms were filled with knickknacks and the glass fronted cabinets in the kitchen with dishes. It was here that Esther called a pause. Esther Thomas was an avid “Antiques Roadshow” fan. On top of that, her nephew Jamal was in the antiques and collectibles business. One set of dishes was decorated with blue and white Currier and Ives prints. “Believe it or not,” Esther said, “these were once grocery store giveaways. Now they’re collector items, especially the serving pieces.” The other set, obviously the “good” set was 80-year-old Dresden china. “David, I think you should consider keeping these. And if you don’t want them, I’m sure my nephew Jamal could get a good price for them. Since you’re not working, I’m sure the income would be welcome.”

David hadn’t considered that any of the home furnishings would be of value. He thanked Esther and agreed to her plan. Esther’s keen eye came into play again in the living and dining rooms. Among the knickknacks she discovered tacky kitsch, valuable kitsch, and some real treasures, most notably the genuine Hummel figurines. More treasures lay behind the knee wall in the attic. The boys went crazy over the Lionel train sets from the 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s, along with the Lincoln Logs, Erector sets, G.I.Joes, comic books, and Matchbox cars, most in their original boxes and in near mint condition. And then there was the doll. Esther gasped when she saw her. Cradled in yellowed tissue paper inside a wooden suitcase, the doll was something from a bygone era. She was large, eighteen inches tall, with beautifully sculpted bisque face, hands, and feet, a fine kid leather body, and a soft mohair wig. Her lace dress was yellowed and worn but intact, as was the doll’s entire trousseau — nightgown, calico dress, white apron, green woolen coat, and leather shoes.

Esther lovingly caressed the doll. “She must be at least a hundred years old. And worth a fortune. “

“I’ll bet she belonged to Mrs. Kondrazyk as a child.” The idea came out of nowhere. David looked at Esther. “I wonder if she would like it back?” He saw the answering spark in Esther’s dark eyes and the plan was born — find Mrs Kondrazyk.

One more surprise awaited David when Esther’s cousin LeRoy led the youth group to the garage to bring in David’s belongings. Just as Esther’s jaw had dropped at the sight of the doll, so did LeRoy’s when he saw the Rambler. Although the tires were long flat, and David had no idea if the car would even start, there wasn’t a speck of visible rust, and under the heavy coat of dust the gold paint job gleamed.

“I can’t believe it! A 1963, 400 cubic inch V8 Ambassador! I don’t know what you paid for this house, but this car and all those other treasures you found will go a long way to paying for it.” LeRoy made an appointment to call David and discuss selling the Rambler later in the week. Then he instructed the youth group to move David’s possessions inside. In no time, David had a functional bedroom, his primary computer set up in the other bedroom, and most of his boxes neatly stacked in the attic. Seated on the remaining boxes in the living room, the hungry kids devoured the pizza and soft drinks he ordered, and the under Esther’s direction, cleared everything away. David was left to enjoy his new home in solitude.


The search for Sarah Kondrazyk took a week. Esther Thomas had connections. But it was another two weeks before the nursing homes were open to visitors. Sarah was residing at Sunnyvale Memory Care, an upscale facility. Carrying the doll in a brightly wrapped box, David approached the reception desk. Before he reached it, an attendant stepped out, took his temperature, and handed him a mask. At the desk, he asked to see Sarah.

“And what relationship are you to Mrs. Kondrazyk?” the receptionist asked.

“Uh. Um. She’s my aunt,” David lied.

“I see.” The receptionist buzzed for a CNA. The woman, whose name tag read “Betty” led him down a well-appointed corridor.

“Mrs. Kondrazyk has been with us for three years. She came to us from the hospital after falling and breaking a hip. In all this time she’s never had a single visitor. So what brings you here now?”

“I just found out about her being here a few weeks ago, and of course, visits weren’t allowed then.” That at least was the truth.

“Well, I have to warn you that Mrs. Kondrazyk has her good days and her bad days. Besides the dementia, she suffers from conditional depression. If she’s confused, it’s best to just agree with her and not try to correct her. She usually refuses to take part in our activities. She may or may not know you.”

Despite his fractious relationship with Madalynn, David could not conceive of leaving her in a nursing home, no matter how posh, unvisited, even though Madalynn herself made but one duty visit to Grandma Flo a year.

Betty opened the door to a private room. A frail woman with wispy white hair lay semi-reclined in the bed. Her eyes were closed.

“Sarah,” the CNA called softly. “Sarah, you have a visitor.”

Slowly the woman opened her eyes. Slowly she turned her head. Slowly the China-ble eyes blinked away an unseen fog. “Jonathan! Oh, Jonathan! You came!”

David approached the bed. “Um, Sarah, hi. I’m not Jonathan. I’m David. David Brynn. I bought your house. “

Sarah’s eyes closed. Her hands fluttered as though trying to pin something down. Then a smile lit her face. “Oh of course. How silly of me. Of course you’re not Jonathan, although it’s hard to tell with that mask.” She looked across to the CNA. “Shirley, this is Davey, my sister Susie’s boy. Oh, Davey! It’s good to see you.” She took David’s free hand and patted it. “Have you seen Jonathan?”

“Um. No.” David answered.

Sarah’s smile dimmed for a moment. “You always were the thoughtful one, Davey.” She sighed and continued patting his hand. “Shirley, this is my sister Susie’s boy Davey.”

Betty smiled. “Well then, I’ll just leave you two to visit. Ring when you’re ready to leave, Mr. Brynn. “

David pulled his hand free. He reached for the box. “Mrs. Kondrazyk,” he began.

“Mrs. Kondrazyk!” humphed Sarah. “Is that any way to address your aunt?”

Remembering Betty’s instructions, David tried again. “Aunt Sarah, I’ve brought you a present. ” He laid the box in her arms .

“A present! I do love presents. Is it my birthday?”

“No. I just thought you would like this.” He helped her tear away the wrappings and lifted the lid of the box.

Sarah’s lips formed a soundless “Oh.” “Oh,” and “Oh,” again. To David it seemed she almost stopped breathing and he became alarmed when a tear slipped down Sarah’s cheek. He was about to push the call button when Sarah regained her voice.

“Annabelle. Oh, Annabelle. Oh, Davey, you found her! I thought she was gone forever!” Silent again, Sarah gently touched the doll’s face and hair and peeked beneath the lacy skirt. Then, hugging the doll tightly began to sing, “Hush little baby. Don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” Sarah sang through the song twice, the sat fully upright. “What am I doing? A lady shouldn’t receive callers in her nightie and in her bedroom even if he’s family. Shirley? Where’s that Shirley?”

David pressed the call button and Betty returned in a few minutes.

“Shirley! Look at that, Shirley! Here it is broad daylight and I’m still in my nightgown. And I have a gentleman caller. It’s just not proper!”

Betty asked, “Would you like to get dressed, Sarah?”

“Of course. How could you let me lie abed so late in the day?”

Betty asked David to step out. Ten minutes later she opened the door. Sarah was now ensconced in a wheelchair, clothed in a blue flowered dress and clutching Annabelle. Betty indicated David should follow and she pushed Sarah down the hall to a cheerful day room. Betty wheeled Sarah’s chair into a circle of comfortable chairs and wheelchairs where their occupants and another staff member were playing a game with giant inflated bats and an enormous ball. The game stopped as the young man said, “Why Sarah, this is a surprise. I’m glad you’ve joined us. Now who is this you have with you?”

Sarah held up the doll. “This is Annabelle. My sister Susie has her sister Clarabelle and my other sister Barbara has their other sister Lillybelle. And this is my sister Susie’s boy, Davey.”

The women who were mobile clustered around Sarah, all wanting to touch or hold Annabelle. While Sarah allowed them to touch, she did not relinquish her grip on the doll. The men who were mobile clustered around David to shake his hand and ask him again and again his name.

Then Patrick, the recreational aide called for attention. David took a seat and listened as Sarah told the story of the three doll sisters. Lillybelle, Clarabelle, and Annabelle had all belonged to a childless great aunt. The dolls had been presented to Sarah and her sisters each on her tenth birthday. “I thought Annabelle was lost forever but my sister Susie’s boy Davey found her and brought her to me.” At this, David received a genteel round of applause.

David could see that Sarah was growing tired, so he stood to say his goodbyes. After he kissed Sarah lightly on the cheek, all the other women wanted the same and the men wanted to shake his hand again. It took twenty minutes to break free. Sarah called out to him, “You’ll come again, Davey, won’t you?”

“I will, Aunt Sarah. I will.”

And he would.


Desperate Measures

James Jensen was a good man. An hard-working man. An honest man. So what was he doing crouched on the back porch of Helen Morgan’s house with a makeshift lock pick in his hand?

James Jensen was a tool and die man. His father had been a tool and die man, and his father before him. But James was not designing wrenches and screwdrivers. He took special price in the fact that he worked for Caduceus Medical Products designing surgical implements and components for diagnostic machines. The knowledge that he was creating instruments that were saving lives have James a great joy, second only to the love for his are Jennifer and their three children, Jimmy, Justin, and Junie.

James had it all — a prestigious, well-paying job, beautiful wife, three bright children, house in the suburbs, and matching, expensive sporty cars for him and his wife. Jennifer worked part-time in a downtown art gallery that also displayed and sold her own paintings. The kids were enrolled in a private school, earning top grades. Even their Labradoodle took first place in obedience trials at the county dog show.

Yes, James Jensen had it all.

Then came the virus. Caduceus Medical Products shifted focus and ramped up production of personal protective gear (PPEs) — hazmat suits, face shields, and perhaps most important, N95 masks. For a relatively small company its output was impressive — 50,000 pre-packaged units of suits, shields, and masks were churned out per week by the manufacturing department, which went to running three shifts a day. Fifty new line workers were hired. The company even received a Presidential commendation.


To no one’s surprise, some of those hardest hit by the virus were those in close, constant contact with the victims. Paramedics, EMTs, respiratory therapists, CNAs, nurses, doctors, police. Perhaps the casualty rate among first responders and medical personnel, while mourned would not have generated untoward suspicion. Until Milwaukee. All but one of Milwaukee’s EMTs and paramedics and half its police force were infected despite being fully outfitted with PPEs. PPEs exclusively provided by Caduceus Medical Products. The medical technologist father of one of the paramedics who died grew suspicious. His daughter still still had a PPE pack in the trunk of her car when she fell ill. Simon Apfel took the gear apart piece by piece. It was the mask. It was labeled N95. It looked like an N95. But when he took it apart he discovered it was not an N95. The filtration fabric was a cheap knock off. Simon sounded the alarm. Across the country, more than 300 deaths were linked to Caduceus products.

Criminal charges were filed. Of the 245 employees, only five executives knew of the substandard masks. Certainly James did not. No matter. The company was shut down and everyone lost his or her job. Worse, they were all tarred with the same brush of criminal negligence. To list Caduceus on one’s resume was poison.

For James, it was not just a lost job. One hundred resumes were met with a wall of no response. Not even a local mechanic would hire him. The children were pulled from their private school and enrolled in public schools. The sports cars were sold and replaced with ten-year-old beaters. Then came foreclosure and the bank took their home. James found a three bedroom apartment in a less than desirable neighborhood in Racine. Through guilt by association, Jennifer was fired from the gallery and her art stripped from its walls. One night after the children were in bed, she screamed at James, “This isn’t what you promised me!”. She picked up a suitcase and walked out the door. Three days later divorce papers showed up in his mailbox.

James had some savings, but the funds in his profit-sharing account at Caduceus had been frozen by the court upon the conviction of his employers. The pension plan was also gone. James took what odd jobs he could find, but he wasn’t the only desperate job-seeker. Thousands were out of work due to the deep recession brought about by the virus quarantine. He downsized again to a one-bedroom apartment. Junie was given the bedroom. Jimmy and Justin shared a futon and James slept in a recliner. Jimmy, now sixteen, began acting out in school and his grades plummeted. Justin, at twelve, turned silent and sullen. Only seven-year-old Junie seemed unaffected, although sometimes she cried for her mother at night. Junie was the only light and joy left in James’ life.

It was a Wednesday. James got the kids off to school as usual. Then he picked up his cardboard sign, “Will work for food” and headed off to the Pick’n’Save on Spring Street to join a motley group of men and women congregated on the corner hoping to find work or at the very least a can of tuna or a gallon of milk. There were just three of them this morning. James recognized Marigold and Patrick as regulars who shared this corner. Traffic was light, although the trio did receive a number of horn blasts and flipped fingers. Just before noon, Marigold and Patrick called it a day. James thought about packing it in too, but decided to eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hang around for another hour. He had just opened the wrinkled paper bag when he heard the car slow down. He looked up in time to see the orange muzzle of the gun protruding from the passenger widow. Splat! He was hit center mass and covered in purple paint. As the car peeled rubber, he got a clear look at the laughing face of the gunman. Jimmy.

James had just taken a shower after bagging up his ruined clothes when his phone rang. “Mr. Jensen, I’m Detecive Hernandez with the Racine Police Department. We have your son James Jensen in custody on an assault charge. Can you come to the station?”

James hastily scrawled a note for Justin and asked him to stay inside and look after Junie until he returned, then raced down to the police station a few blocks away. He was escorted through the reception area to a small office. A smirking Jimmy was seated, handcuffed, in front of a desk. The detective merely nodded as James entered and flicked his finger at one of the two vacant chairs. James sat.

“Mr. Jensen, are you aware of your son’s activities over the past few weeks?”

“Well, other than school, no. I don’t let him go out much after school because he has to watch his younger brother and sister.”

The detective peered at James. Suddenly James was acutely aware of the splatters of purple paint he had been unable to wash out of his hair. “Are you sure about that, Mr. Jensen?”

” Well, I only discovered Jimmy had skipped school this morning, ” James stammered.

“And how did that come about, Mr. Jensen? Did the school contact you?”

” Um. No. ” James hesitated.

“Oh, for crying out loud, Dad! Just tell him!” Jimmy burst out. “I am sick and tired of you embarrassing all of us with that stupid sign of yours. You got what you deserved! Besides, everywhere I go I get treated as a criminal, so it might as well be one!”

James opened his mouth but no sound issued forth.

“Why would you be treated as a criminal, James?” the detective asked.

“You want to know, ask him!” Jimmy waved his cuffed hands at James.

The detective lifted an eyebrow.

James’ mouth went dry. “I was a tool and die maker…for, for Caduceus.” James could see the ice form in the detective’s eyes.

Hernandez picked up a file folder and tapped it sharply on the desk before continuing. “It appears that for the last several weeks, your son and one, Thomas Bruton have been conducting drive-by attacks with paint balls. This afternoon, he shot an eighty-two year old woman by the name of Amelia Porter. The impact of the paint ball knocked Ms. Porter off her feet. She suffered a broken hip as a result of the fall and is now at All Saints’ Hospital. It just so happened that the attack was witnessed by an off duty police officer who was able to get the license of Mr. Bruton’s car and called it in. Mr. Bruton and your son were apprehended four blocks away. Officer Mueller has positively identified your son as the shooter. The charges against him and Mr. Bruton are aggravated assault, which is a felony. Although your son is a minor, there is the possibility he may be charged as an adult.”

At that moment, there was a knock on the door and Jennifer stormed into the room. James hadn’t seen her in over a year; not since the divorce was finalized. “What have you people done to my son!” She was in full screaming mode. ” And you! ” she turned on James. “Why is it no surprise that you’re responsible for this!”

The detective interrupted, “Ms. Jensen, if you’ll just have a seat I will explain…”

” It’s not Jensen! It’s Ms. Saunders.”

James scooted over to make room for Jennifer to sit. “Saunders?” He thought. ” When did that happen? ” Aloud, he said, “How did you know about this?”

“Jimmy called me, of course,” she snapped.

“He has your phone number?”

“Of course. I am his mother.” She turned to Jimmy. “Don’t worry. I’ve called my lawyer. He’ll be here soon and get you out of here.”

Detective Hernandez was in the midst of explaining the circumstances to Jennifer when his phone rang. Listening, his expression darkened. He set the receiver down. “I’m afraid young Mr. Jensen won’t be going anywhere. Ms. Porter has died from her injuries. The charge has been upgraded from aggravated assault to manslaughter and the D.A. intends to charge the boys as adults. James will be remanded into custody until the arraignment.”

Detective Hernandez stood and indicated the door. As James and Jennifer exited, a uniformed officer stepped back in to take charge of Jimmy. The smirk had finally left his face. “Mom! Mom!” he cried out as he twisted in the officer’s grasp. “You said you’d get me out of this!” Another officer stepped up to escort James and Jennifer out of the building.

On the sidewalk, Jennifer began screaming at James, accusing him, blaming him. He finally cut her off by saying he needed to get home to make supper for Justin and Junie. “Fine!” Jennifer snapped. James noted the car she entered was a brand new, high end SUV as he got into his old beater.

That was Wednesday. On Friday afternoon he answered a knock at the apartment door to find a case worker from Child Protective Services. Behind her stood Jennifer and a man in a suit whom James did not recognize. The CPS worker introduced herself and handed James a document.

“I have been authorized to investigate a complaint regarding the home situation of minor children and make a determination of their placement. May I see the contents of the refrigerator and cupboards and their sleeping arrangements? Both the cupboards and refrigerator were nearly empty. “I usually go grocery shopping on Saturday” James explained .

“I see. What about the children’s bedrooms?”

“Well, Junie has the bedroom.” James opened the door to display the unmade twin bed with a tangled, faded pink comforter. Junie’s favorite plush unicorn sat on the pillow. ” And Justin sleeps out here.” James indicated the futon.

“And where do you sleep, Mr. Jensen?”

James pointed to the recliner.

The woman made some throat clearing sounds, the addressed Jennifer. “I can see your concerns, Ms. Saunders. And I must agree. These are not suitable living conditions for a young girl. I will approve of your motion to take custody of Junie.”

“Wait. Waiit. What? Take custody of Junie? Jennifer, when you walked out, you left me with the kids. Even at the divorce hearing you didn’t want them. You can’t do this!”

“I’m afraid she can, Mr. Jensen.” The suit finally spoke. ” Larry Carson. I’ve been appointed guardian ad litem for Junie Jensen and upon authorization from CPS, I have a writ for Ms. Saunders to take immediate custody. Now, if you’ll be so kind as to pack a bag for Junie, Ms. Saunders will pick her up from school.”

“No! No. Why Junie? Why not Justin? For that matter, why not both of them?” James protested.

Jennifer answered, “I can’t take them both because we only have the one spare bedroom and the regulations say each child must have their own room. Since Junie will be with me, Justin will now have his own room.”

Defeated and numb, James packed up Junie’s dolls and plush animals. Jennifer had cooly informed him she had purchased an entirely new wardrobe for the girl. Half an hour later Justin arrived home from school. He took the news of their new living arrangements in his usual sullen silence, although he forcefully slammed the bedroom door behind him when he retreated there after supper.

Though still in mourning over the loss of his daughter, the following week turned slightly brighter. James got a referral To Helen Morgan. She needed someone to paint her garage and she was willing to pay $200.00. The job took two days. Ms. Morgan was a gracious employer, making sure James took adequate breaks and feeding him lunch in her kitchen. She chattered on about her upcoming trip to visit her grandchildren in Florida on Saturday. Friday, when the job was complete, she handed James four crisp $50.00 bills.

Saturday, James did his grocery shopping. Thanks to Ms. Morgan, he was even able to buy some of Justin’s favorite snacks. On the way home from the supermarket, the bald, old rear tire finally gave up the ghost. James fished the spare out of the trunk. It too, was flat. The nearest Kwik Trip was a half mile away. James locked the car then lugged the spare to the service station. He filled the tire, and thankfully, it held. The trip back to his car was even more awkward. The whole process took much longer than he thought it would. By the time he got back to his car, he could only gape at it in shock. The trunk was open and all of the groceries were gone. A week’s worth of food for his teen-aged son and himself just gone and no way to replace it.

As he changed the tire he thought of the well-stocked pantry in Ms. Morgan’s kitchen. He had even glimpsed a full gallon of milk in her refrigerator. She would be gone for two weeks. Surely the milk would be spoiled by the time she returned. So that was why, late on this Saturday night, James Jensen was crouched on Helen Morgan’s back porch with a makeshift lock pick in his hand. A growing boy has to eat.


Side Effects

“Okay, Boomer.” Charlie sighed. He was getting extremely tired of the attitude directed at him and his age mates by the younger generations. The quarantine which had initially been declared for a few weeks had now stretched into the third month. The young woman who delivered his groceries to the pick-up zone smirked at him as she made a show of wiping down the handle of the shopping cart before giving it a push that sent it into the side of his car.

Hey. At least she had a job. Charlie still had a year to go before he could collect Social Security and his pension. His 401K was in the tank. He had been laid off as soon as the Governor shuttered all non-essential businesses. His savings were almost gone and soon he would have to tap into to the remains of his 401K despite the ruinous surcharges. Widowed a decade ago, at least he didn’t have a family to support.

The younger generations, fed by mass and social media, had come to lay the devastating economic effects of the virus at the feet of the Baby Boomers. After all, it was the Boomers in the White House, Congress, and the Governors’ mansions who had shut down the entire country. And for what? To protect their own precious hides. As far as many of the youth were concerned, contracting the virus was akin to the chicken pox parties anti-vaxxer parents had arranged for their children in the 2000s — get it, get over it, become immune, and get on with life. But no. For those over 60, the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, getting the virus meant a high probability of death. So the movements, job opportunities, and recreational activities of the young had to be restricted for the benefit of the old. And the young were resentful.

Two days after his shopping trip, Charlie scrolled through his news feed while enjoying his morning coffee. “Breaking News! Breaking News!” A half dozen posts with the same headline rolled by. Sufficient public pressure had been brought to bear that the President has fired the head of the FDA. A vaccine for the virus, created by a private firm, had been fast-tracked for approval. Manufacturing had already begun and the first doses of the drug would be available in a week’s time. The vaccines would be administered to the most vulnerable first; those receiving Social Security or disability benefits.

“Great,” thought Charlie, ” first I’m too old; now I’m too young. ” The article went on to say the first round of innoculations should take the better part of a month. Then a lottery system would be set up for Baby Boomers. After that limited quantities of the vaccine would be available for younger people.

The ensuing month seemed to pass even more slowly than the previous months of lockdown. But at last, Charlie received his letter, reported to the clinic, and was vaccinated. By the end of that month, all restrictions were lifted. While there were still cases of the virus occurring in the general population, the hospitals were no longer overwhelmed and there were fewer deaths. More importantly, there were no outbreaks among the vaccinated.

Not since VE Day had the country seen such giddy celebrations. Yes, the leaves were turning, but the promoters of every county fair, every music festival, every arts and crafts show seemed determined to schedule events before the first snowfall. Something was happening every single day. The celebrations were good for the economy, even if they were a short-term boost. Charlie was just happy to be back to work and did not mind missing the parties in the least.

The election came and went. Carried along by the surge of relief, the President won re-election handily. By Presidential proclamation, the Thanksgiving holiday was extended by two days, beginning on Tuesday and a national day of prayer declared. Sure, the media and the Left squawked, but they were given short shrift.

It started in the nursing homes and retirement communities on the morning of Black Friday. Nursing assistants and community managers arrived at their jobs only to find they could not understand their patients and residents. Oh, their charges were happily conversing among themselves but not in a language staff could comprehend. Yet in every case, the residents had no difficulty with understanding staff. When spoken to directly, they responded in comprehensible, if accented speech.

Over the next few weeks, other changes were manifested. Those patients who had been hopelessly confused became alert. Frail and bedridden seniors gained health and strength. Bearded men, overnight, became clean-shaven, with no trace of stubble and no regrowth. All seemed to gain a few short inches in height and become more slender. Perhaps strangest of all, their ears changed shape. Only those who had not received the vaccine remained at unaffected. Doctors and scientists were non-plussed. No one had an explanation. Yet suddenly, the oldest segment of society became strong and healthy.

After the initial proliferation of sensational headlines, public interest became more concerned with rescuing the economy. Life went on. Charlie was just happy to be back to work. Many were not as marginal businesses did not survive the shutdown. Work or no, Charlie looked forward to the Christmas holiday. He would be spending it with a niece and her family. After the long isolation of the spring and summer, coming together took on a new depth of meaning. For Charlie, the joy of the children’s performance on Christmas Eve at church and a homely gathering and magnificent feast on Christmas Day recalled the best of holidays celebrated while his beloved Martha was still alive.

The day after Christmas, Charlie woke early, but lay contentedly in bed. Saturday, and he had no place to go and a refrigerator full of leftovers. He reviewed his plans for the day — which happened to be a whole lot of nothing. Amazing how different it was, wasn’t it, when going nowhere and doing nothing was a matter of choice rather than government edict? Idly, Charlie reached to scratch an itch on his chin, and came fully, alarmingly, awake. Where there should only have been a trace of stubble, his fingers encountered several inches of wiry growth.

Charlie shot out of bed and nearly tripped on the hems of his sweat pants that were suddenly several inches too long. He also realized his waistband was uncomfortably tight as were the shoulders of his sweatshirt. A glance in the mirror offered a further shock. Not only did Charlie sport a full beard and mustache, his previously thinning hair curled about his shoulders. Charlie opened the news tab on his phone with thick, hairy fingers. He discovered he wasn’t the only one to be thus transformed. All across the country, middle-aged women and men found themselves shorter, stronger, and in the case of men, hairier than they had ever been before. As with the elderly, those who had not been vaccinated remained unchanged.

It took a few weeks for the nation to adjust to this new, new normal. After hastily purchasing a new wardrobe courtesy of Amazon, Charlie was back to work. He had no difficulty communicating with co-workers his own age, but talking to his boss required him to flip a mental switch. Charlie still thought in English and among his age-mates, it seemed to him he still spoke it. In talking to younger folk, however, it felt as though he had to force his larynx and lips to shape words they could understand.

All forms of media were filled with wild speculation. Among the elderly, nursing homes emptied as suddenly healthy seniors no longer required care. For the middle-aged, after ergonomic adjustments to workplaces were instituted, it was back to work as usual, although many found desk jobs to be confining and irritating and were drawn into the trades. Charlie, too, found in himself a new aptitude for welding and metalwork. Overall, however functional things seemed to be, the country was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Drop it did on Valentine’s Day. Much of the younger generation had opted out of receiving the vaccine. Those who had weathered the virus didn’t need it, having acquired natural immunity. Many of those who had not taken sick dismissed the vaccine as something necessary only for “old” people. But as morning dawned on Valentine’s Day, those who had been inoculated woke to find themselves no taller than a third grade child and with feet covered in luxurious, curly hair…


Emotional Triage

Anyone who remembers M*A*S*H* or has followed any of television’s medical dramas knows what triage is. In an overwhelming situation, it is the assessment of individuals to determine which are the most critical patients in need of treatment. But the concept of triage has applications elsewhere.

Emotional triage is perhaps best seen in a family with a special needs child. Little Jimmy is on the spectrum. Little Julie is neurotypical. Julie wants to talk to Mom, but Jimmy is on the verge of a major meltdown. Mom has to make a choice. Julie’s needs, or Jimmy’s. Nine times out of ten, she will have to take care of Jimmy first.

Over time, Julie learns to take care of herself. But it can go one of two ways. She can either understand her family dynamics and accept that she must be the strong child, or, she can become so resentful she acts out just to get any kind of attention. Scratch that…there is a third way…She can be understanding and responsible one day and a hellion the next. Parental emotional triage can be seen in other family situations. Perhaps Jennifer is a star athlete with a demanding schedule, or James is running with the wrong crowd and is into drugs. It can even happen in perfectly typical families where one child is simply more outspoken than another, or even between spouses when one parent becomes so absorbed in a child he or she neglects his or her partner.

Understand, I am not laying blame on anyone. Parents, like all human beings, have only so much strength themselves. And like all human beings, some have more than others. And very often, the neurotypical child, the “good” child grows up to be a strong, capable adult.

I believe everyone, to some extent, practices emotional triage in the community in which they live, whether that be family, workplace, neighborhood, circle of friends, or church. Two (or more!) people seek one’s attention or help. Which one will collapse, either physically or emotionally, and which one will be “fine”? When this happens occasionally, it’s no big deal. But when it becomes a pattern?

That one person you all know; that one person who can always be depended upon to understand why you had to cancel that get-together or never answered that text or phone call. That one person who seems to be so strong, who never expresses disappointment at cancelled plans. That one person who is taking care of others. That one person who will never let you see how much being invisible hurts. You know him. You know her.

Check up on that strong person in your life. Do it today.



Oh my goodness! I have a blog. Now that’s something I never thought would happen.

When I was ten years old, my parents gave me a five-year diary for Christmas. I still have the book. Let me do the math. 365 days times 5 plus one for a leap year…that’s 1,826 entries. Well, that’s 1,826 potential entries. In reality, I doubt there’s much more than 50 in the entire volume.

I wasn’t much good at disciplined writing back then. I’m still not. Madeleine L’Engle said that to be a real writer, one must keep a private, daily journal. By that standard, I certainly don’t measure up. And yet. And yet…The compulsion to write has been with me almost from the time I became able to read…which was at three-and-one-half.

So. Here you will find some of my ramblings and woolgatherings. Some will be random thoughts on what’s happening in my life, some will be observations, and some will be fiction.

Just don’t expect anything regular.



The May sunshine did little to alleviate the chill breeze rising from the coulee below the abandoned cemetery. The burial ground nestled into a bowl carved from the side of the ridge by a prehistoric landslide. Vibrant green shoots of wild grape and hops vines softened the foundation of the church that had burned down a century ago.

Clara leaned on her cane. She was alone. Plenty of social distance. Her GPS had given her fits while trying to navigate the sparsely signposted back roads. The last time Clara had stood here was nearly 50 years ago when her great-aunt Clara, after whom she had been named, brought her. Gray-green lichen all but obscured the words on the worn headstone beneath her feet, but Clara had come prepared. With a bottle of bleach and a pocket knife, she scoured the stone clean.

Beloved Son
Joseph Willger
Age 3 years, 7 months

Her grandmother’s little brother.

Joints protesting, Clara struggled to her feet. “I shouldn’t be here,” she thought . “I shouldn’t be alive.” She fingered the small scar on her throat. It was almost a match to the one her grandmother Mary had worn almost her whole life. Unbidden, the story rose — a story told so many times it had almost become her own memory. And here, in this empty cemetery, it became more than a memory. It became a vision.

“Clara! Stop hitting me!” The words rose up in seven-year-old Mary’s thoughts but couldn’t make it through a clogged throat and parched lips. The rhythmic pounding between her shoulder blades continued. A warm, wet cloth encompassed her face and finally Mary could open her eyes. But where was she? Not in her own bed. The room was small, white, and strangely foggy. Slowly Mary realized the white ceiling and walls were a bedsheet draped over her parents’ double bed. The fog rose from a tub of steaming water. Mary twisted to look at the source of the pounding and saw her mother, face obscured by a red bandanna. Suddenly, Mary’s body shook as a fit of coughing brought up a disgusting gob of something streaked with blood.

“There now. There now,” Mama crooned. “That’s better.”

Mary coughed again and again, and then, exhausted, sank back into sleep. When Mary next woke, it was to a strange, wheezing, whistling sound. She was no longer alone in the bed. Her brother Joseph lay a few inches away and the sounds were coming from him. But they were also coming from her. Darkness claimed her once more. Over the next two days, awareness returned for only moments at a time — but that was a blessing.

When Mary next woke, the white tent was gone. Gray light seeped the through the thin bedroom curtains. She tried to call for her mother, but could not. Mary touched her neck and found a bandage wrapped around it. She raised herself on one elbow. Across from the bed on a pair of sawhorses was an oblong pine box. Frightened, Mary reached out. Her arm caught the pitcher on the nightstand and swept it to the floor. The crash brought her mother running.

“You’re awake!” Mama felt the girl’s forehead. ” And the fever is gone! Praise God! Well, you can’t stay in here, now. ” Mama gathered her up and as they left the room, Mary could see Joseph sleeping the sleep that has no end in a pine box just large enough for two.

With increasing clarity, Mary thought, “I’m alive!” And then, ” I will live! “

Clara felt chill. Clouds had moved in unnoticed. She shook herself. Now her own memories assailed her. She recalled the days of quarantine, of precautions, of isolation. She was one of the vulnerable ones — over 65, diabetic, auto-immune disease. She had been so cautious yet the virus had found her. She did not recall her nephew discovering her, carrying her to the tiny rural clinic. She did not remember the tracheotomy done in the ambulance because there was no respirator.

But she did remember waking to gray light seeping in through a gap in the hospital room curtains. She remembered the nurse’s startled exclamation, “You’re awake! Praise God!” And the slow days regaining her strength.

“No,” she said to the wind. ” I should be here. I’m alive! I will live! ” Clara laid the bouquet on the small gravestone turned, and made her solitary way to her car.



1313 Villa Street. The sign said, “Vicki’s Junque Shoppe…Yesterday’s Trash, Today’s Treasure.” I must have passed that store a dozen times a day…and like all the kids in the neighborhood, gave the malodorous sidewalk vents a wide berth. Oh, not that the display windows didn’t hold their temptations…my ten-year-old self lusted after the millifiore paperweights that sparkled in the rays of the setting sun, but the more than life size reproductions of Gainsborough’s “Pinkie” and “Blue Boy” in ornate gilded frames that flanked the walls were just creepy. And there were the Aunt Jemima syrup bottles that had been fitted out with various costumes. Then there was the building. At one time, in the late 1800s, it had been a hotel on the street that once bore the name “Workman’s Row” instead of the more elegant, “Villa Street.” It was two stories tall with a squared off false front and hadn’t seen a coat of paint in decades. The siding above the huge display windows bore the remains of a coat of white paint, but the walls beyond were dark brown and the windows that looked north and south were dark and lifeless, bearing the remains of tattered shades. A rickety outer staircase ascended the south side of the building to a door that had been sealed by two planks nailed criss-cross over the portal. Of course, the creepiest factor of all was the proprietor…Vicki herself. Rumor had it that her husband was a prosperous real estate developer who dropped her off early every morning and picked her up after dark each evening. Funny thing, though — no one could ever recall seeing that happen. With snow-white, fright wig hair, dressed in ankle-length skirts, with ragged cardigans layered over stained, frilly blouses, and a reputation for chasing children off the sidewalk in front of the shop with a broom, she had all of us convinced she was a witch. Then there was her propensity for “stealing” water from the outdoor spigot of Grandma Turkowski’s house, when the plumbing for the store didn’t work, that sealed her reputation as “eccentric” with the adults. Needless to say, we kids did not need to be told to avoid the place…especially on Halloween.

That all changed the autumn of my eleventh year. School couldn’t dismiss early enough that October 31st. The lure of trick-or-treating was on the mind of every student and our attention spans were non-existent. A few lapses too many throughout the day meant I wasn’t leaving school with my classmates. Instead, I had three rooms worth of chalkboards to clean. So my walk home was unusually solitary. Passing the open door of the Junque shop as dusk began to fall, I was startled to hear the sound of sobbing. The wordless cries morphed to the breathy, strangled words, “Help me!” Frightened, I looked around. The street was empty. A few more yards and I would be safe on my front porch and my parents could answer the cry for help. But the words came again, fainter this time…and this time, I heard my name. With a mouth as dry as cotton, I tip-toed through the door. But Vicki was not there. Instead a scrawny man in a purple coat and striped top hat beckoned me further in. I walked through the dark and dingy anteroom and my jaw dropped in amazement. Beyond the beaded curtain to the back of the shop, light streamed into a high-ceilinged series of rooms that stretched far beyond the fence marking the Cook’s back yard. Not an inch of wall space was visible for the bric-a-brac that glittered and gleamed in the foggy illumination.

Silently, the man handed me a paperweight and then shooed me out the door. It was fully dark, and all up and down the street, costume-clad neighbor kids were trotting up and down the steps to jack-o-lantern and porch light illumined doors. Wait. What happened? Trick-or-treating wasn’t supposed to begin until 6:00. I had stepped into the store shortly after four. I called out to the nearest group of children running between the Mosher’s house and the Peterson’s. For just a moment, the kids stopped, stared at me, and then ran screaming to the corner. Puzzled, I turned and caught my reflection in the shop window…my reflection of white, fright-wig hair, ankle length skirt and ragged cardigan over a frilly stained blouse.