Sometimes I wondered if it even mattered whether our communion cups were filled with consecrated wine or draft beer, as long as we bent over them long enough to recognize each other as kin.
Taylor, Barbara Brown
When I came outside of the bar it felt like leaving a movie theatre in the afternoon. I was disoriented. I looked around and saw fast food places and three motels. I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I was staying. I saw a Super 8 motel and started walking toward it.
“Hey, Monk!” I heard a voice yell from a car that had Lancelot Diner written on the side of it. I stopped while the person rolled the window down further.
It was a woman I recognized from somewhere. She shielded her eyes from the sun and said: “I’m heading over to Larry’s to deliver some food. Want a ride?”
That was it. Larry’s. I looked around and spotted it behind me.
“That’s okay. Thanks. I need a bit of a walk.”
“Okay, see you soon!”
I went back to the motel, found my room and collapsed on the bed. About an hour later I heard a knock.
“Ready to go Monk?” A voice shouted through the door. It was Catherine.
“Hold on a minute?” I walked to the bathroom and splashed water on my face but most of it dripped down onto my trousers. I rubbed them with a towel but that didn’t help. I pulled my shirt tail out to try and cover the spots.
I opened the door. Catherine sized me up. “A little accident?”
“Yep, I spilled water all over myself.”
“It’ll dry. Look, I’ve got the address of the babysitter and she’s agreed to talk with us. Ready?”
The babysitter wasn’t much help, or maybe she was. It was clear that she was too distracted by the allures of high school and boyfriends to have done the injuries. Allures like these tend if at all, to result in neglect, not abuse. Also, the picture she painted of the family was of two parents who absolutely loved their child.
“So what do you think?” Catherine asked as we were sitting in her car afterwards.
“I think you have to keep the doctors running tests. There are conditions other than brittle bone disease that can cause these injuries.”
“Like I forget! Give me some time and it’ll come to me. It’s been a while. The doctor should be ruling out all possibilities. They should know this stuff. They don’t need me. Anyway, there’s no great hurry. The infant will be in the hospital for a while.”
She looked away. “I know but I’m worried. My director has been putting pressure on me to file an ex parte petition and get the child into state custody.”
“Why? She’s not going anywhere. You said the family agreed to not take her out of the hospital. What’s the rush?”
“It’s political. He doesn’t want it to look bad, like we’re not doing our job.”
“Idiot.” Then I thought about that. “Sorry, that wasn’t very compassionate of me. Idiotic. That’s better.”
“You are a strange monk!” She laughed and shook her head. Then she turned toward me and put her hand on my shoulder. “But hey, thanks. I really appreciate all your help today.” She pushed her hair off her forehead.
Was that another preening gesture? I thought I’d seen her make one before. Naw, sure it was just the dreams of an old man. Regardless, I still felt the tug of the old machinery cranking inside, those magical, wonderful, torque full urges that God gave us. She looked at me with a smile that was tired but full of warmth. I let out a sigh as long as Africa.
She dropped me off back at Larry’s Hide a While and after we made plans to meet the next morning I walked down to the 7-11 shop and bought a bottle of Corona and went next door for a Chinese takeout. I went back to the room and tuned into a baseball game, the Braves were playing against the Phillies. I ate the chicken and cashew nuts, sipped the cerveza, watched the Braves and fell asleep, dreaming of late-inning rallies.
Day 7 – Osceola, Iowa
Life is a series of
natural and spontaneous changes.
Don’t resist them –
that only creates sorrow.
Let reality be reality.
Let things flow naturally forward
in whatever way they like.
Next morning, after a few text messages to arrange it, Catherine picked me up and we headed for that restaurant named after the knight, Sir Lancelot. Polly was there all smiling and welcoming and I could see Shorty in the kitchen slinging hash. I heard him shout at a waitress: “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean”, followed by “order up”.
Polly had her back to Catherine and said to me: “How are you doing this fine morning Monk?”
Catherine cleared her throat loudly and Polly turned slightly in her direction. “We’re just fine dear. Thank you so much for asking.”
She put two menus down on the table. “What would you like to drink?”
“Okay, I’ll be right back with them.”
After she left I looked at Catherine. “So are you originally from around here?’
She smiled. “No, I’m originally from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.”
“Really? You have a bit of an accent.”
“My parents were from Hong Kong. They mainly spoke Mandarin while I was growing up.”
“How’d you get here, Osceola?”
“Met a guy from here in college in Fond du Lac, fell in love and well…”
“Bob’s your uncle.”
“What? Bob? I don’t have an uncle…”
“Sorry,” I laughed, “It’s an Irish expression. It means sort of …one thing led to another and now I’m here.”
“Ireland again? You’ll have to tell me more about that.”
“Not much to tell.”
“Did you live there long?”
“For a few years.”
Polly suddenly appeared with Victor mugs and a carafe. “Here you go.” She said as she poured the coffee into the mugs.
I smelt the aroma and watched the steam rise from the cups. The beauty and holiness of the smallest acts which we so take for granted.
“You guys ready to order?”
We ordered up a mess of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and buttermilk biscuits.
I stared at Catherine who was busy glancing around the place. “So what happened to this boy you fell in love with?”
“Oh!” She folded her hands in front of her on the table. “We were married for about ten years. The first few were happy and then he lost his job, started drinking too much, became abusive and then, well,” she searched for the right words, “Bob’s your uncle.”
“Handy expression for when you don’t want to say anymore, isn’t it?”
“Better than ‘yada, yada, yada’.”
“Have you ever been married?”
How to answer that without complicating things any more than I have to, or want to?
“I was married twice. My first wife, I met in Ireland. I met my second wife there too.”
I took a deep sigh and prayed my tears would stay on some island far off tonight’s coast.
“Actually, they’ve both passed.”
She folded her lips inward. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” I managed a smile that reneged as soon as it flashed.
“How long has it been since the last wife passed?”
“About three years now. She had cancer.”
“Two, Colin in Savannah and Hannah in LA. I’m on my way to see her.”
She looked away and tilted her head at an angle. “By way of Iowa?”
“Seems so. I’m letting the road tell me which way to go.”
“Hate to break it to you Monk,” she replied and then whispered, “but I think the road’s been lying to you.”
“That’s good. When you laugh I can see your dimples.”
I was starting to like this woman. “What about you? Any kids?”
“Hundreds of them. But they’re either in foster care or been adopted.”
I smiled. “Hard not to love these kids, what with all they’ve been through.”
“Do you mind if I ask a personal question?”
I stared at her. “No, as long as I get to ask one back.”
“How old are you?”
“Whew, I thought it was going to be more personal than that! I’m 65. How about you?”
“48, and go ahead and tell me I don’t look it.” She twirled a lock of her shiny black hair.
I leaned back and studied her from different angles. “Nah, you look it, actually maybe 49.”
She slapped my arm. “Smart ass.”
“I get that a lot.”
“I bet you do.”
“Seriously though, you’re in great shape for being 48.”
“Thanks, and you’re in great shape for, what was it? 70?”
She put her arms on the table but kept them close to herself. She opened her hands, flipping her palms up. “So Monk, why are you on this motorcycle trip?”
I shook my head. “I’m not sure. It’s just something I have to do one last time.”
“Why one last time? You’re not dying are you?”
“No.” I smiled. “Not yet.”
“So why the trip?”
“There’s something about being on the road. You get to leave your past behind you. Don’t need to remember things anymore. Show up anywhere, anytime. You have no history with anyone you meet. No expectations. No attachments. You can be anyone you want to be.”
“But you can do this in a car too.”
“Yeah, but it’s harder. You’ve got too many distractions: radio, music, phone calls, drinks, snacks. You can go through a drive-through. You don’t have to put your foot down at a traffic light, balance the bike as you do. Instead, you’re in a nice temperature controlled cage that you can hide in. Sealed up, moving through places, protected from them, from chance encounters with people. On a motorcycle you’re in those places, can’t escape from them, and somehow those places are in you. Moment by moment. Everywhere you go, there you are. You’re protected from nothing. It’s easier for God or the Universe to reach you when you’re protected by nothing.”
She shook her head. “Are you trying to escape the past? Some bad memories?”
My head sort of wobbled. “Not really. You can’t outrun or outride bad memories. They’ll go with you anywhere. The only solution is to find a way to make peace with them. Own them. I figure that if I hadn’t had those bad experiences I wouldn’t be here, now, this moment in time and place.”
She reached over and put her hand on mine. “I’m glad you’re in this moment in time and place.”
“Me too. Thanks.” I smiled at her and I swear I didn’t know my wink was coming.
“Monk! Are you flirting with me? Oops, now you’re going all red.”
I cranked up a smile on the left side of my face. “So what if I am? Sorry, I’m just an old man having breakfast with a beautiful woman.”
She pushed some hair off her forehead and looked around. “Thanks. It’s okay. I like it. I like you.”
I shuddered a little and deep inside felt the stirring of the old hydraulics again. Maybe Elvis hadn’t left the building after all.