Paving Over Memory Lane; Chico’s Monkey Farm; Nowhere to Go and No Hurry to get There; More Motorcycle Adventures on Back Roads Georgia Highways 17 and 341; Wooden Nickels.

I’ve never had a great memory. That’s why I write things down. Old photos of family and friends, and places I’ve been help me somewhat, but actually seeing the old things helps me the most. Highway 17 used to be the main conduit between Florida and Maine and was filled with fascinating, and sometimes troubling, roadside entertainment. When I-95 was completed, the roadside services, motor lodges and entertainments began to dry up. Highway 17 is still an important road linking communities but it’s become a four lane. That came at a further expense as when they widened the road they knocked down many of the old facilities. The rest were left derelict.

So here I am driving down the highway and trying to remember where things were. Where was  Chico’s Monkey Farm and the Dixie Jungle. Once you could see their bright pink advertising signs with garish colors and wacky designs every half mile down the road: “See the Monkeys!”, “Pet the Alligators”, “Pecan Logs” and “Souvenirs”. Men were boiling peanuts by the side of the road and there was scent of barbecue from Mammy’ Kitchen and Howdy’s Restaurant where they had the wild pink flamingos. And there was Archie’s Seafood Restaurant in Darien.

Leaving Darien this morning I decided to head north and took Highway 341, which I took all the way up to Griffin, Georgia from where I’m now writing. Got in moments before a thunderstorm hit.

Here’s just a list of observations for my memory lane:

Homes: Shotgun cottages, clapboard houses; small brick homes, some fancy, single and double wide trailers.

Trees: Pine, willow, maple, magnolias, mimosas, cypress trees in blackwater swamps.

Farms, pecan trees, peanut farms, peach groves, the scent of newly cut pine trees on a logging truck.

Peach ice cream at Dicky’s Peach Farm.

I just enjoyed the ride. I had nowhere to go and there was no hurry to get there. I daydreamed, meditated, prayed and gave thanks. Aren’t all our journeys, whether down memory lane or the four lanes of new adventures, ultimately about love? Remembering it, discovering it, preaching it?

Oh, and I passed lots of signs for Vacation Bible Schools. If they don’t teach those kids to love everyone, regardless of what roads they’ve taken to get here, then those classes aren’t worth a wooden nickel.

I remember wooden nickels.

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Chapters 11 and 12 of my motorcycle novel: Achilles Soul: Monk Chuck gets in over his head.

Chapter Eleven

Day 6

Our whole business then, Brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.

St. Augustine

 

I woke up the next morning when I heard my phone ringing. I checked the area code and it was a local call.

“Yep.”

“Is this Monk?”

“Sure is.”

“This is Bernard from the Harley shop.”

“Yes sir, how are you?”

“I’m good but your bike’s not too healthy.”

“Probably a couple of aspirin will fix it.”

“’Fraid it’s gonna be more than that.”

“So what did you find?”

“I think I told you yesterday that you need a new front engine mount.”

“You did. Anything else?”

“You have a primary leak. Did you know that?”

“Yeah, I’ve been keeping my eye on it.”

“How’s that working for you?”

I laughed. “I’m here aren’t I?”

“Just barely.”

“Is that it?”

“No, I’m just getting started.” I heard him laugh. “When did you last have a full service on this baby?”

I let out a sigh. “I’d say about 40 thousand miles ago.”

“That figures.”

“What else you got?

“You’ve got a base O ring leak, an intake leak and a leak from your shift shaft seal.”

“What was that last one?”

“Your shift shaft seal?”

I imagined trying to say that fast five times. “Yep. What’s the shift shaft seal leak about?”

“Well, it leaks oil which can get on your chain or your tire and cause you to have a bad accident. It’s not safe.”

“What else you got?”

“You have a stripped shifter shaft lever and stripped shifter shaft.”

“Of course I do!” I laughed. “Let me get this straight: I have a problem with the shifter shaft seal, a stripped shifter shaft lever, and a stripped shifter shaft.”

“You got it.”

“I don’t even know what in the hell I’m saying!” I laughed.

“What?”

“So can you fix all of this?”

“Sure, but it’s going to take some time and some money.”

“The money I can handle but how much time are we talking about?”

“If I order all the parts tomorrow I’d say I could have it finished in about a week, maybe sooner. That’s if I don’t run into any other problems.”

“Damn.”

“You in a hurry to get somewhere?”

“Not really.”

“Your call.”

“That’s fine. Thanks. Go ahead and get started.”

 

I got dressed and walked back down to the Lancelot Diner.  Breakfast was still being served and I took a seat in a red vinyl booth this time. The table had a mini jukebox on it and a fake flower in a vase. I scanned the place but didn’t recognize anyone from the night before. A young waitress brought me some water, silverware and a menu. Unfortunately, grits weren’t on the menu. I settled for scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuit, and coffee. I took out my journal and wrote down some notes and a few of the events from the last few days. The waitress came and filled my coffee cup and set down a silver carafe on the table.

I heard a bell tingle as the door opened and I spotted Betty, the waitress from the night before, coming in. She walked around behind the counter and was talking to the cook. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but he was talking loudly and gesticulating wildly with his hands. I saw her raise just one hand toward him and flap it like she was saying: go away. She walked over to the cash register, opened it, took out an envelope, squinted at it and put it in her purse. She looked up and glanced in my direction, spotted me, paused and waved excitedly. Then I saw her grab the arm of another waitress passing by. She stopped her, whispered something in her ear and the other woman grinned, took a look in my direction and smiled, whispered something back and they both giggled. The other waitress had mahogany red hair and was wearing a black baseball cap that said: “Lancelot”. And for some reason, I was sure her eyes were green.

Betty came over to me: “Monk Chuck. Good to see you again!” She flashed a big grin while  chewing blue gum.

“Nice to see you again too,” I said. If I’m trying to lay low and not use my real name I might as well go with Monk Chuck. I’ll only be here a week. What harm could it do?

She crossed her arms. “You must be staying near here being back for breakfast and all. Unless you got a girlfriend!” She winked at me and then her face took on a serious expression.

“Oh, I’m sorry honey. You’re not one of those priests that can’t have sex are you?”

“No, I’m not. I can have all the sex I want.”

Her face turned red and she shied back a step.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean I can have all the sex, what I meant was that I’m not celibate.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. So you’re staying around here?”

“Yep, over at Larry’s Layawhile.”

“Those are good people over there. They’re Jains, but American just like you or me.”

“Jains? You mean they practice Jainism? Never met any Jains before.”

“Funny people, but nice. You know that expression: ‘Wouldn’t harm a flea?’”

I nodded.

“That’s them. Completely nonviolent. Even try not to step on insects.”

“Huh,” I replied. “By the way, are you okay? The cook seemed to be yelling at you.”

“Pshaw.” She flapped her hand at me. “Shorty. He owns the place. He blows up all the time. It don’t make no nevermind. I just ignore him. He’s angry because Arnie walked off the job and he just hired a new cook who’s taking a while to get the hang of things. Do you need a job? Can you cook?”

“A little.”

“Want me to say something to Shorty?”

“Nah, that’s all right. Thanks.”

“What about being a pearl diver?”

“A what?”

She laughed. “A pearl diver. That’s what we call a dishwasher.”

I laughed.

“Oh, I need to put a bug in your ear about something.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know if you done anything wrong or not but those two policemen you were talking with came back in later last night and they were asking questions about you. I hope you’re not in any trouble.”

“None that I know of.” I lied. Had the South Carolina folks already tracked me up to Iowa? How could they have?

“Well, they’re looking for you. I got to go hon. Picking up the grandchildren and taking them to the park.”

“Bye Betty. Thanks.”

She smiled, moved her shoulders in a perky way and left. The bell rang when she walked out.

“Here’s your food Reverend Chuck.” The waitress Betty had been speaking to said as she put my plate on the table.

“It’s Monk. Thanks.”

“All right Monk Chuck.  My name’s Polly.” She said with a cute puckered smile. “Can I get you anything else? Ketchup, jam?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks. What were y’all giggling about over by the cash register?”

She flashed a broad, crunched smile. “Nothing.”

Damn, she was pretty, and her eyes were green like Maeve’s were. The shade of peridot.  I felt the wheels of the old dormant hydraulics shifting again in me. The tug of belts, pulleys and the coiling of springs. The feeling of wonder at the site of a beautiful woman in a baseball cap.

“Polly!” I heard someone yell. It was Shorty. “Go unthaw that hamburger meat.”

“You got it boss,” She replied. Then she turned and winked at me saying; “If you need anything, let me know.”

I nodded and thought about river birch trees in snow, the bark unpeeling and my own heart unthawing.

 

I was halfway through my breakfast and a forkful of sausage was heading toward my mouth when the bell rang and one of the cops from last night came into the place. I dropped my head but he spotted me and made a beeline for my table.

“There you are, padre. We’ve been looking for you.”

“What for?”

“You were right about that child Mary Ellen. She had been abused. When we confronted the foster mother about the pattern of burns she confessed. Said she was punishing the child for spilling stuff on her white carpet. How’d you know all that?”

“I used to be a social worker. Child protection.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. See neither me nor Stokes has had any training in that yet. We’re both just a year into the job and they figured we didn’t need it because the social workers knew it all. But then the supervisor Jane Rellic left and Miss Sims had to take over. She used to work in Adoption and doesn’t have any experience in Child Protection. All the other staff are brand spanking new.”

“Always a lot of turnover in child protection. Their salaries should be doubled and the number of cases they have limited. Any politician who tells you they support children and families but won’t support that are liars.”

“Pretty strong words there padre.”

“That’s why I ain’t a social worker anymore. I said those same words at a luncheon of state government officials. Told them to spell out whether they supported these two things or to shut up about strengthening families.”

“What kind of reception did you get in Des Moines when you said that?”

“It wasn’t Des Moines. I was, uh, working in another state at the time.”

“Where was that?”

“Well look, let me ask you this first. What happened to Mary Ellen?” I needed to change the subject.

“Miss Sims put her into foster care. Into an emergency shelter that we have. But the child’s not speaking.”

“Make sure she gets some trauma counseling as soon as you can. She’s gonna need it.”

“Well, that’s another problem we have. Our trauma counselor is on vacation. Won’t be back for a week and a half.”

“Come on. Surely you have someone.”

“Nope. Nobody trained and certified. She’ll just have to wait.”

“Bless her heart.”

“Hey,  padre. You could talk with her. Just give her some religious support. I don’t think she’s got any. Probably could use some.”

“Well, uh, I don’t think I would be of much help to her.”

“Are you kidding? The girl needs help and you’re a preacher and a social worker. That’s probably exactly what she needs. Look, I’ll make the arrangements, okay?”

This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I’ll probably take one look at her and burst into tears. I let out a deep sigh. But I am supposed to be trusting my journey. You can’t pick and choose what God/Universe throws at you. “Sure. Yep. Glad to help. But run it by that Miss Sims before you arrange it. I don’t want to step on her toes.”

“Good idea.” He patted me on the shoulder and headed toward the door. He stopped before going out and turned back. “I forgot to ask where you’re staying?”

“Larry’s Layaround.”

He smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and went through the door.

What in the hell have I gotten myself into now?

 

After Miss Sims approved of it Stokes picked me up at the motel and we went to the mental health center where I met Mary Ellen. He introduced me in the hallway and took us to a room with a window in the door and where there were toys and play activities. The room had a two-way mirror. As he was leaving I said to Stokes to make sure that someone was watching in the other room. He assured me he would be there.

She sat in a little chair by a little desk and wouldn’t look at me. Sadness hung in the air like old chalk dust. From what I could see of her tiny face she wore a blank expression. Poor girl has probably been interviewed by so many people already that surely I’m the last thing that she needs now. And the worst thing would be to try and get her to open up to another person who then disappears from her life. She needed someone, something, that she could keep, hold on to. I walked around the room and looked at the toys, games, crayons, and markers, the Victorian style dollhouse and the hand puppets. “Wow! These look like so much fun!” I said picking up one of the puppets. I glanced back and caught her eyes following me. She quickly looked away. The puppet was purple and fluffy; its eyes were opened wide in either wonder or vigilance.  Maybe both. I put it on my right hand.

“Who are you?” I said to the puppet.

“I’m Merlin.” I made the puppet say. “Who are you?”

“My name is Monk.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Nothing. I just want to tell you something.”

“What is that?”

“That you are loved.”

“I’m not loved. I hate me.”

“Do you really? Or do you hate the people that hurt you?”

“I don’t want to talk.”

“Me neither. Let’s just sit down and relax.” I carried the puppet over to the table, making sure I was giving Mary Ellen plenty of space, and I sat in one of the tiny chairs. I looked at the puppet. “Do you want a hug?” I asked.

“No.”

“Me neither.” I let out a sigh. “I just want to sit somewhere and feel safe.”

“I don’t feel safe either.” The puppet continued.

“I heard that. I’m so sorry. I know how that feels.”

“You do?”

“Yep, I’ve been hurt before. I felt scared.”

“What did you do?”

“I cried.” And as I spoke I felt the tears building inside but I wasn’t going to let them out. Not here. Not now. “People who love us shouldn’t hurt us.”

“I know. I don’t know who to trust.” The puppet replied.

“Well, you just be that way. Make people prove to you that you can trust them. You just take your sweet time.”

“Thanks. But I need someone I can trust now.”

“Do you want to try and trust me?”

“No thanks. I don’t want to talk.”

“Good. Don’t talk until you’re ready.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

“Can I hug you?” The puppet asked.

“Okay.”

The puppet hugged my head.

“You are loved,” I said. “Remember that no matter what, you are loved.”

The puppet nodded. I nodded.

I put the puppet down on the table between us. Moments later out of the corner of my eye I noticed Mary Ellen picking up the puppet and mouthing words to it. As she was talking I went to the door and as I opened it I was met by Stokes.

“Wow. That was pretty powerful. You looked so emotional in there I almost thought it was real.”

“Yeah, how ‘bout that. Do me a favor.”

“Sure.”

“Go check with someone and make sure that she can take that puppet home with her. I don’t want to have to tell her ‘no’ if she asks.”

“Sure thing.”

I walked back over to the little desk, Mary Ellen was still mouthing words to the puppet and every once in a while she hugged it, or it hugged her. Stokes stuck his head into the doorway and gave me a thumbs up. I sat down in a little chair at the little table, closed my eyes and just listened and prayed.

“Can I keep him?” I heard a high pitched broken voice utter.

“Yes. He’s yours. He can stay with you.”

She stood up, sensing our meeting was over and walked over to me. “I’m sorry that you hurt too.”

“Thank you,” I said and I watched as she walked over to the door. When she reached it Stokes appeared, waved solemnly to me and escorted her out. I just sat there, smelling the sadness of the chalkdust.

 

Chapter Twelve

The Ride is the metaphor I use…for how we move through our life…For me, the Ride is best played out on a motorcycle. It speaks to every aspect of how I see life in that poetic way – the need for balance, confronting your mortality, accelerating, breaking, refueling, tune-ups, repairs, accidents, accepting passengers and so forth. The bike becomes a mirror that reflects the whole of my life.

Garri Garripoli

 

A few moments later the door opened again and a woman entered. She appeared to be Chinese, about 45-50 years old, five foot nothing, long black hair, riddled with grey. She looked harried, suspicious, worried, yet confident. She had to be a social worker.  She walked over and stood in front of me.

“Where the hell did you come from?”

I stood up, catching myself in the tiny chair as I did, which made me bend at a funny, almost 90-degree angle. “Officer Stokes brought me here.” I tried but failed to get the dang chair off me. I offered her my hand. “I’m Monk.”

“Catherine Sims.” We shook on the deal of who we would be.

“Here’s my card.” She handed me a card with her name and number on it. “And I didn’t mean how’d you get here, I meant where did somebody that had those skills come from? You’re definitely not from around here.”

“I used to be a social worker,” I said, finally getting the chair off me and putting it down.

“Buddy, you still are.”

“I’m retired.”

“You look too young to be retired.”

“You look too young to have vision that bad.”

She flashed a beautiful warm smile. “Seriously, I was trying to figure out who I was going to get to talk with her. Our therapist is on vacation. Stokes asked me if you could. He said you were some kind of a preacher. I stopped by the room to see how it was going.”

“I hope I did all right.”

“You did just great. She was anxious, fearful and not talking to anyone. By using the puppet you were able to create a symbolic client, which removed the focus from her and gave her the safe emotional distance she needed. You responded with empathy to the puppet’s feelings in a non-threatening way, and Mary Ellen felt that. You didn’t promise her safety – thank God – who can guarantee that anymore? But the puppet that you gave her is now a safety object for her. And you told her she was loved.”

“She is.”

“I wasn’t sure about the part where you shed a few tears though.”

“I’m afraid it’s part of the package you get with me these days.”

She stared at me and nodded. “You don’t want a job do you?”

“No ma’am, I’m retired.”

The corners of her mouth turned up and she smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

“Suit yourself.” I watched her play with her hair. Was that a preening gesture? No way. Just an old man’s hope-driven imagination.

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” She asked.

“Sure, can’t go anywhere anyway. My motorcycle’s in the shop and Stokes took off.”

“You one of those biker preachers? Who did they say you were?” She fished a slip of paper from her purse and squinted at it. “Reverend Chuck?”

I laughed and shook my head. “Just call me Monk”

 

She had a grey Toyota that looked about eight years old. It was poorly parked, head first into a space; the driver’s side rear tire hung over the white line. The car should have been parked in the getaway position, facing out. In case a meeting with some clients suddenly turns dangerous you don’t want to have to take the time to back your car up. Just jump in and high tail it out of there. The backseat of her car was filled with different sized child seats and the floor was littered with trash from fast food places. I stood by the passenger door. The seat was covered with papers, a laptop, a clipboard, breath mints, a half-drunk plastic bottle of Diet Coke, a crumpled pack of potato chips, pens, a bottle of perfume, disinfectant, hand lotion,  a black cardigan and a hairbrush. Might as well just have a sign saying: a social worker lives here.

“Help me with these.” She said as she loaded the stuff from the passenger seat onto my outstretched arms. I followed her around to the trunk and waited while she opened it. Inside were two small empty suitcases. She signaled me to put the papers into one of the suitcases.

“You know what the suitcases are for, don’t you?”

“Yep, I had bags in my trunk too. Worst thing you can do during an emergency removal of children is to throw the child’s stuff into a black garbage bag.”

She nodded grimly.

“And the car seats?”

“I had to transport three kids for a supervised meeting with their parents today. Where are you staying?”

“Larry’s Layover.”

“Great!” She said flashing a pretty smile, “I know a nice retro diner near there. Sir Lancelot’s.

Have you heard of it?”

“Yeah, I have.” I climbed into the car. I watched as she flipped the overhead visor over and pulled out a folded sheet that had been rubber banded to it.

“I need to write my mileage down.”

Moments later she cranked the car up and it lurched backward suddenly. I grabbed the hand holder above the door. With her head swishing left and right she pulled out onto the road. Her phone rang and she answered it.

“This is Catherine. Yes, Maggie. Yes. Well Maggie how do you think the family’s going to get to court if you don’t take them? Yes, I know you were the one who removed the children.”

She leaned sideways, put her hand vertically to the side of her mouth and whispered to me: “New worker.”

I nodded.

“Yes, I know you have to stand up and testify against them. And guess what? You get to drive them home.”

She whispered to me again: “Love to hear that conversation.”

“No, you can’t transfer the case. You have to work with the family to get the child back home. Yes, I know they hate you. I’m not fond of you either. What? No, that was just a joke.” She shook her head at me and mouthed: No it’s not!

The car swerved and I grabbed the handle with both hands. She turned into the parking lot and pulled into a space.

We walked inside and were met by a familiar face, Betty, the waitress from last night. “Welcome back Monk! You can sit anywhere you like.”

That earned me an endearingly suspicious smile from Catherine. I hunched up my shoulders.

Almost as soon as we sat down the waitress from this morning Polly came by the table carrying rolled up silverware, two glasses of water and some menus.

“Reverend Chuck, good to have you back again!” She had her back turned to Catherine and flashed me a grin. “What can I get you?”

“Coffee, for now, thanks, Polly.”

“Uh, I’ll have coffee too.” A voice from behind Polly’s back uttered.

“I’ll get them.”

“How long have you been in town?” Catherine asked.

“About 24 hours.”

“Wow, and people already know you. That one was even flirting with you.”

“Nah, she wasn’t”.

“Yeah, whatever.” She said and turned the menu over to look at the other side.

So it wasn’t imagining it. I’ll be damned.

Polly brought us our coffee and stood in a neutral position at the table. “Anything else you two want?”

“No thanks,” Catherine replied.

Then I noticed Polly turning towards me. “The apple pie is to die for.” She said excitedly, as she bounced up and down on her toes.

“Maybe later.” I smiled at her.

Polly stepped back and Catherine caught me still smiling.

“A minister’s not supposed to act that way. Hey, what kind of minister are you anyway?’

“A Taoist-Buddhist-Christian.”

“That figures.” She rolled her eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Hey, I’ve got another case I’d like some help with.”

“I’m retired. I told you that.”

“You’re also waiting for your motorcycle to be fixed so you have some free time. I promise it won’t cut much into your proselytizing, or your apple pie.” She added with a smirk and then looked at Polly. “Though I think you could do better.”

“What about respecting the dignity and worth of all individuals?”

“I’m sure she has her dignity but I’m not sure how much she’s worth. You’ll have to negotiate that between the two of you!” She laughed.

“That’s cold!”

“I know. I’m feeling ashamed of myself.”

“Are you really?”

“No, not really. Okay, maybe a little.”

“That’s better.”

“Confession is good for the soul, huh father?”

“I’m not one of those kind of ministers.”

“I’m starting to see that. What kind are you?”

I leaned back. “The kind that likes to ride a motorcycle, who enjoys a good beer and a cigar.

And the company of women.”

“Are you celibate?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

“Everyone keeps asking you that? You’ve only been in town for 24 hours.”

“Okay, one person has asked me that.”

“I bet it was that waitress Polly.”

“Actually, it was a different waitress. Weird huh?”

“I’ve got to ask you – does this happen often to you?”

“Would you believe me if I said it never has?”

She leaned back. “Nah. I don’t believe much that comes out of people’s mouths.”

“I remember being that way.”

“Occupational hazard.”

“Reckon so.”

“So, I forgot where you said you’re from?”

“That’s because I didn’t.”

“Can’t trick you on that one. But how am I supposed to employ you if I can’t verify your identity.”

“You can’t.”

“Oh, we’ll figure something out.”

“Look, Catherine. I’m flattered with the offer but I really am retired.”

“Can’t I appeal to your sense of duty, your code of ethics, whatever religion that was that you mentioned?”

“You can but it won’t work.”

“You don’t believe in helping others?

Okay, that did it. My Achilles soul. That was one of my rules for the trip. Help people until they don’t need you anymore. Ironically, also the job of a social worker – to get fired by the client- that you did such a good job they don’t need you anymore.

I took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“You’ll do it?”

“Yeah, I will, but just until my bike is fixed.”

“Wow, that’s great. Let me tell you about this family I’ve got.” She paused while Polly filled our coffee cups back up.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anytime.” She said with a wink.

“Unbelievable.” Catherine opined as she shook her head. “Anyway, it’s all confidential until I hire you.” She reached into her handbag and foraged around. She pulled out a dollar and put it on the table. “Here’s an advance.”

“A dollar. That’s the best you can do.”

“You know the government only says it cares about kids. They don’t put any money where their mouth is.” She pointed at the dollar bill.  “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

I picked it up and folded it and stuck it in my pocket. “I’ll try not to.”

“Okay. Here’s the situation.  Mom checks on the baby in the morning and notices that one of her legs is swollen. Babies don’t usually have swollen legs. She takes the child to the hospital and the doctor does an x-ray which reveals multiple fractures in various stages of healing throughout the child’s body. We’re called and go to speak with the parents.”

“How did they act?”

“Double – shock. Shocked about the child’s injuries and shocked that we were called and asking them questions about their daughter.”

“I bet.”

“Yeah, they weren’t hostile or anything, in fact, surprisingly, they showed an understanding of why we had to be there.”

“I imagine that didn’t last long.”

She nodded. “Especially when the doctor came out with his diagnosis that the injuries were non-accidental. He’s ready to swear it was abuse. The new caseworker wants to file a petition to get custody. I met with the parents and, well, I’ve got a gut feeling that they’re telling the truth. I got them to agree that they wouldn’t try to remove the child from the hospital so that gives us more time.”

“What’s this gut feeling about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were they concerned?”

“Absolutely. And they sought help immediately.”

“Was the child in good shape otherwise?”

“You mean other than the history of multiple fractures?”

“I know.”

“It’s hard to tell.”

“How did they describe the child?”

“In positive ways. They did say that she cried a good deal.”

“Now we know why.”

“But that they loved her. They were able to tell me in detail how they tried to soothe her when she cried. The dad said that she liked gentle rocking and that sometimes he’d put her in her car seat and sit her on the top of the clothes dryer and turn it on. Sometimes the motion would put her back to sleep.”

“Parents remind you of anyone?

“No, why?”

“You might have some positive feelings about someone like them and be projecting them onto them. Countertransference.”

“I know what countertransference is, and no I’m not.”

“Middle or upper class?”

“Nope, poor as Job’s turkey.”

I smiled. “Haven’t heard that in a while. We’re other medical causes ruled out?”

“The doctor checked for osteogenesis imperfecta by running a collagen analysis and it was negative.”

“So no brittle bone.”

“That’s right. They also did a skin fibroblast study on the parents and it didn’t show any collagen abnormalities.”

I felt a sense of dread deep in my body. Here we go again. “Okay, I’ll go with you to see them.”

“Do you need anything from your motel?”

“What?”

“Your motel. Do you need to go back there for anything?”

“It’s Larry’s Layaway.”

“Larry’s Layawhile.” She corrected me. “You already told me, remember?”

“Oh yeah. I forget things easily. A little short-term memory loss.”

“That’s not such a bad thing.”

“Combine it with having low expectations and I’m one happy biker.”

She laughed. “And Monk.”

“Yes?”

“What’s your last name anyway?”

“Chuck.”

“I thought that was your first name.”

“You thought wrong.”

“So what’s your first name?”

“Monk.”

She eyed me suspiciously. “So your parents named you Monk?”

“What can I say? They were very devout.”

“Sure. Whatever. Finish your coffee and let’s go.”

 

On the way to the hospital she again took some calls. I held on tight to the handle.

“Yes, Mrs. Johnson. You’ve got a child at school with bruises. Does he say how he got the bruises? He won’t huh? How old is he? 15. What kind of bruises are they? Right. Where are they located? Okay, so nothing on the face or head. What size bruises are we talking about? That’s pretty large. How many are there? What color are they? Okay, I know they’re bruise-colored but what I mean is are they purple, brown, yellow? Okay. Is he afraid to go home? No, well let him go home then. Tell him that if he’s afraid he’s going to get hurt to go to a friend’s house. Give him my number. I’ll send someone as soon as I can. Thanks for calling me.”

She looked at me and shook her head. “I’m going to have to relieve that worker at the hospital and send them out on this.”

He phone rang again. “Yeah, Joanie what do you need? The car seats are in my car. If you meet me at the hospital we can swap them over. We’re all out of diapers and formula? Pick some up at Walgreens and get a receipt and we’ll pay you back. No, really we will. I know you haven’t been paid for the last one yet but it’s on the way.”

She leaned toward me and whispered: “It’s not really.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”

I shook my head. It all sounded familiar. Let’s see one of those high paid bankers deal with issues like these. They wouldn’t last a day.

“You know in Ireland it’s against the law to talk on the phone while you drive.”

She stared at me. “What a random thing to say. Where’d that come from?”

“I used to live in Ireland.”

“In the monastery, Monk?” She laughed.

“No, just lived there.”

Ten minutes later we were at the hospital parking lot and a woman was waving us down.

“Hey, Joanie!” Catherine shouted. She parked the car, introduced me and we began swapping the car seats into Joanie’s car.

“Catherine, I don’t have any money to buy baby things.”

“Here’s a twenty. I want a receipt and change.” She yelled as Joanie drove away.

I saw her switch gears, from harried to helpful, as we entered the room where the parents were sitting. “Mr. and Mrs. Faulkner, I want to introduce you to Reverend Chuck. He has a background in social work and wants to help but I need your informed consent.”

“For what?”

“For me to share your personal information with him.”

“How can he help?” Mr. Faulkner said glaring at me. Maybe I should have taken my Harley vest off.

“Well if it’s accidental he might be able to support that.”

“And if he thinks we did it like the doctor does?”

“He could testify against you.”

They looked at each other, earnestly searching each other’s face and both nodded. He grabbed his wife’s hand. “We don’t have anything to hide.”

“Well, I have to get you to sign this release. She balanced her briefcase on her knee, took out a pen and stuck it in her mouth and grabbed a piece of paper from inside. She closed her briefcase, walked around to the side of them and pointed at the paper. “Let me write his name in here.” She scribbled something. “This says you agree that I can share information with him. And he too is bound by the rules of confidentiality I discussed with you earlier. Is that okay?”

They glanced at each other again, nodded in unison and signed.

I went through the usual questions with them about their background, their views of the child, worries, and fears.  They lived in a double-wide trailer in a decent area of town. Mom and dad both worked full time but different shifts so they could take care of the infant; good childcare plan until you need a witness for the times you’re alone with the child. What parent could ever provide that? I couldn’t find anything implausible or suspicious about their story, and believe me, I tried.

“They seem like pretty good parents to me,” I said to Catherine when we met outside the hospital room.

“That’s what I thought.” She said earnestly. “They’re cooperative and concerned and understand why we need to do what we do. They seem to want to find out what’s causing the child’s injuries as much as we do.”

“Yep, they’re not getting their knickers in a twist, which is a good sign. It’s the parents that get indignant and protest the most that usually did it.”

“Knickers in a twist?”

“Irish saying.”

She smiled.

“Still, this is going to be challenging.”

She nodded.

“Well in most legal cases somebody’s got to prove we did something to injure someone else. In the case of child abuse, the parents have to prove that they didn’t. Hard to prove a negative.”

“They’re guilty unless we can prove them innocent.”

I nodded. “Last time I checked there were over 50 medical conditions that could mimic child abuse. It’s not easy or cheap to check for all of them either. And it can take time. What does the child do during this time? They either stay in the hospital or go into foster care, neither of which is good for them or the family.  They’re not going to stay in the hospital for long without a good medical reason and because it costs too much. So they’ll end up in foster care which if the parents are innocent is horrible for them and for the child.”

“You’re preaching to the converted Monk.” Then she smiled. “Hey, get it?”

“What?”

“You’re a monk preaching! Ha ha!”

 

We were nearing my motel when we passed a bar called Dan’s Roadside Inn. “Can we stop there? I need a drink.”

She eyed me suspiciously. “Do you usually have a drink before 5 pm?”

“Nope can’t remember the last time I did but it’s been a while since I’ve had a day like this.”

We sat at the bar. Next to me was a thin, grizzled man wearing a Harley shirt. It said: I Tamed the Dragon, referring to an especially curvy road up in North Carolina. I smiled and nodded at the man and he nodded back. I ordered a Yuengling and the bartender brought it.

“So what do you think?” Catherine asked.

“I agree with your gut feeling. I don’t think they did it. But we do have bruises that are unaccounted for. They do have a young, occasional babysitter that watches the child for them sometimes. We need to rule her out.” I took a sip of the beer. It was ice cold and beautiful.

Catherine put her elbows on the table, rested her head in her palms and stared sideways at me. “I’m going to head there later after I run over to the school to check on this boy they called me about. James was going to do it but just got an emergency referral on a sexual abuse case. So it’s just me.”

“Muggins.”

“What?”

“Nevermind. An Irish saying.”

She smiled and shook her head. “You keep surprising me, Monk Chuck! Anyway, I’ll pick you up back at the motel around 2:30. Okay?”

“I’ll be there.” I watched as she walked out of the place. She looked cute.

“Hey, Monk?” The man next to me said.

I took a deep breath and turned toward him. “Yep.”

I watched as he looked around to see if anyone was listening. I looked around too. Besides the bartender, we were the only two in the place. He leaned in closer to me.

“I’m having a problem with the Mrs. and I need some advice.”

“I’m not very good with advice. Hate giving it and hate taking it.”

“Are you married, father?”

“Was. Twice.”

He stared, taking the full measure of me. I’m not sure he liked what he saw but that didn’t stop him.

“What happened?”

“Both died.”

“Man, I’m, sorry.”

“I’m not. Best years of my life. You’ve got to appreciate what you had, not dwell on what you’ve lost.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that father.” He pointed a finger at me. “No disrespect meant.”

“None taken.”

“Sorry, but it’s different for me, father. My wife and I have been married for 23 years and she just started acting strange.”

“Just now, after 23 years? Consider yourself lucky.”

“What?”

“Sorry, go on.”

“She started going through the menopause and got real cold toward me. Wouldn’t let me touch her. They should call it the men o stop, if you get my meaning. It’s hard to sleep with someone that you can’t touch after 23 years of touching them. It’s like sleeping and waking up next to a dead sea otter.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry.”

“Then she started imagining all these things about me, like, like, well I can’t say it. It would be disrespectful.”  He looked down and shook his head.

“It’s okay man.” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Honestly reverend I have never done the things she accused me of in all the 23 years we were married and I never would.” He started to weep and I pulled him closer to me and his shoulder touched mine. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Sounds like she has a delusional disorder of some kind. Will she go see a psychiatrist?”

He shook his head. “I tried to get her to go. The kids did too. She won’t. I just love her but she treats me like a stranger.” He really started crying now. Old tears, from that reservoir of sadness that lies on the hill above hope. It would have to be emptied before he could hope again. But memories of their former love were flooding the reservoir so that the tears almost seemed endless.

“I’m so sorry man. So sorry.”  I put my arm around him and he leaned into me again. I wasn’t going to tell him it would be all right because without her getting treatment it probably wouldn’t be. “You know there’s this thing called, anosognosia. It’s not denial, it’s more that, mentally, the person is unable to recognize that there’s anything wrong with them.”

He leaned up and gently slapped my chest with his hand. “That’s it! It’s not really her fault, but it is.” He went sullen and looked around him like he had misplaced something. “But still she’s the only one who can do anything about it.” He looked away and mouthed a few words silently, then spoke. “I still love her.”

I nodded and felt some tears welling up in me. “You always will. Bless you, man. Bless you. I’ll pray for you.” I believe in the priesthood of all believers and the raw sanctity of any and all of the blessings we give and receive from others.

“Thanks, father.” His eyes were wet and his nose snotty. I grabbed a couple of drink napkins and gave them to him.

We spent the next hour talking. I had one more beer. I couldn’t do much more for him other than say how sorry I was, that I knew he hurt and to keep blessing him, over and over again, hoping the prayers would help build for him some kind of rickety bridge to a safe haven.

Chapter Nine and Ten of my Motorcycle Novel: Things Start Getting Strange

Chapter Nine

Day 4 – Memphis

 

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.

Henry David Thoreau

 

Last night my sleep was filled with dreams. Maeve was there in one scene, Clare, my second wife, in another. In each dream, there was a recurring set of numbers. In the first, I was telling Maeve how much I loved her and had missed her. I remember kissing her hand and the taste of her skin on my lips, even the scent of Anais Anais that she used to wear. There was a knock on the door and a man was there with a telegram. The telegram had a number on it: 6412918227. I read the message, said goodbye and left immediately. For the life of me, I can’t remember anything the message said. Then I was with Clare and we were at Tybee walking on the beach. A plane flew over dragging a sign with the same number on it:  6412918227. I woke up, scribbled the number down in my notebook by my bed, and fell back asleep.

In the morning I was all packed and ready to leave when I spotted my notebook on the desk. It was still opened and the number was written there. It had the same sequence as a phone number. Since I was leaving everything to fate on this trip, what the hell, I called it.

“Lancelot Diner, what can I get you?”

“I, uh, just found this number and wanted to find out what it went to.”

“Well, now you know. I gotta go. Things are crazy here.”

“Uh, you have some kind of problem there?”

“Yeah, Arnie my short order cook didn’t show up this morning. Probably drunk over at Candace’s house. So I’ve got to fill in. Hey, can you cook?”

“What? No. I mean, yes.”

“Doesn’t matter, I’ll train you. I’ve got to have somebody. Just show up and you’ve got the job. Just ask for Shorty.”

“Thanks. Hey, wait a minute.”

“Yeah?”

“Where are you?”

“In Osceola.” And he hung up. I was going to ask “Osceola where?” but I didn’t want to seem even more like an idiot. I had no clue where Osceola was so I took out my phone and searched the internet by typing in the area code. Turned out it was in central Iowa. I took out my Harley atlas and found it on the map. I had planned to head north today. I could still do that and then cut west and get to Osceola. Well, why not? When you abandon yourself to fate you can’t pick and choose your destinations.

The phone rang again and I checked the number. It wasn’t familiar so I didn’t answer.  I’d wait and see if they left me a voicemail. No voicemail. Then the phone rang again and it was the same number. I turned the sound down on the phone put it away and picked up the atlas to check my roads again.

I couldn’t find any other way over the Mississippi River except for using the interstate. So I’d ride that until I was across and then pick up the blue highways again. I wrote my highway numbers down, I 40 and Highway 61 on the yellow sheet, and put them in the see-through pouch. I grabbed a quick breakfast at Burger King and then headed out. It was the right road but I headed in the wrong direction. I turned around, found I-40 W and rode it over the great Mississippi River. Tugboats with barges were plying the green-brown water. A sign announced:  Welcome to Arkansas. Shortly after crossing the river I took the exit to Highway 61. I rode this for miles until I got to I-55 and 61 suddenly disappeared. There was another road heading in the direction of the river and so I took it. Nice road, flat, hardly any traffic, which made sense when after 15 miles I came to a dead end sign. I turned around. On the way back I decided to test the Road King’s speed and my courage. I got her up to 105 miles per hour before the front end began to wobble. She still had plenty of throttle left in her but I backed her down to 60. A road named A appeared that looked paved and trustworthy.  I took it and it came back out on I-55.  Okay, I figured I’d take it until I saw signs of 61 again. I hopped on it and soon realized that instead of I-55 I was on I-155 and heading back over the Mississippi River again. Before I knew it I was back in Tennessee. I pulled over to the shoulder, stopped the bike and pulled out my Harley atlas. Within two minutes a car pulled over.

“You all right?”

“Yep. Just stopped to check my map.”

“Where are you heading?”

“Wanted to get on highway 61 and take it up to Hannibal.”

He stared at me and then briefly glanced back toward the way I had just come. “Highway 61 is back that way.” He said throwing his thumb over his shoulder. “If you don’t mind me asking, why 61?”

“I heard it was beautiful. Somebody suggested it to me.”

He nodded his head a few times and looked away.

“Do you have another suggestion?”

“Yep, if it were me…” he signaled for me to let him hold the atlas, “see you’re right here?”

I leaned in closer to look. His right forefinger fingernail was split halfway in two and it looked heart shaped.  “Yep”.

“Well, this next road up ahead is 181. Take that until it dead ends at 79 and go right. Then when you hit 78 go left and take that all the way to Hickman, Kentucky and you can take a ferry boat back across the Mississippi and pick up 61 again. It’s a much more beautiful ride. Course I’m from Tennessee so I’m a bit biased.”

“How far is it to Hickman?”

“‘Bout an hour.”

“Let me write this down.” I took the directions and scribbled them down on a yellow sticky note.

We said goodbye and I headed out. It was a beautiful ride. Small towns, lush verdant fields, wetlands and bottomland forests. Gum, oak, and bald cypress trees. By the time I got to just outside Hickman, Kentucky I was low on gas. I could either follow the signs pointing to the left to the ferry or the right into Hickman. I remembered the guide for the road I’d written. When confronted with choices of equal value take the one on the left. So, I headed toward the ferry. Surely, there would be a town on the other side and a gas station.

I parked the bike just off the ramp to where the ferry “the Dorena” was tied up. The Mississippi was flowing gray-green and the sunlight was flickering off the currents. I leaned against the bike and waited to be signaled to drive on.  A man came out, opened the gate and waved me on. The parking surface was military grey with yellow traffic lines. I pulled up to the front, parked the bike, took off my jacket and felt the heat pouring down on me. It felt good. The Captain wandered over, collected my $5 and said we’d be waiting a few minutes to see if anyone else showed.

“I’m Monk,” I said, extending a hand.

“Luke, I’m the pilot.” He was a tall guy, skinny with brown hair and a beard. I’d guess around 35 years old.

We shook hands.

“Is there a gas station on the other side of the river?” I asked.

“Sure is. But it’s 18 miles away, in East Prairie. You low on gas?”

“Yeah. Maybe I should go back to Hickman.”

“Hold on.” He said and walked away, returning a few moments later with a red five-gallon plastic container. “There should be enough gas in here to get you to that station.”

“Thanks man.” I poured about a gallon into the tank and checked the gauge. “How much do I owe you?”

He put up his hand. “Don’t worry about it. Where you heading?”

“California.”

“From Georgia?” He said, pointing to my license plate.

“Yep.”

He nodded. “Never been to either one.”

“You been doing this long?”

“About twelve years. Used to pilot boats up and down the river. Was good pay but I was gone a lot and missed the kids growing up. So I switched to this job. Pay isn’t as good but I can be home every night.”

“This is probably not as exciting either.”

“Shoot. You’d be surprised the crazy things that have happened on this boat.” He shook his head.

“Like what?”

“There was this one time,” he laughed, “I got a load of young women over from the college. This tiny little blond with a pixie face comes up to me, blushing, says ‘Captain, this is really weird but to join this sorority I need to run around naked on your boat. I’ll do it really fast, I promise.’ Hell, I told her to take her sweet time. She asked whether I’d report it to the police. I told her that on the river the only law was the Coast Guard and that I wouldn’t say a word. Later, I saw her and another girl running around the boat buck naked!”

He patted me on the back, put his gloves on and went off to run the ferry. I walked over to Big Red and made sure she wouldn’t tump over under the movements of the ship. Moments later we were swinging around and heading across the Mississippi. There was a slight breeze on the water and to the west, the sky was steel blue with black clouds.

Fifteen minutes later I was riding down the ramp into Missouri. I soon became glad that I had gotten the extra gas on the Dorena because for eighteen miles there was nowhere to stop. I finally drifted into East Prairie and spotted a gas station where I could fill up. Just as I pulled in under the canopy, a huge thunderstorm broke.  I gassed her up and then found a place to park, still undercover though it had a lot of leaks. I went inside the shop to wait things out. It was your typical southern convenience store: hot dogs rolling on a grill, boiled peanuts cooking in a crock pot, various types of coffees and cold fountain drinks, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, rows of beef jerky.  Another section had fishing lures, hip waders, flashlights, camouflage paint and clothing –both ‘real tree’ and ‘mossy oak’- and Dead Down-Wind antiperspirant for the deer hunters. A woman in a glass-windowed room was sorting through the containers of live bait. Attached to the gas station was a fast food restaurant. I grabbed some coffee, nodded at some customers and sat down at a table. Nearby, two men, even older than I was, were in earnest conversation discussing the whereabouts and running operation of heaven.

I waited an hour until the wind died down, the rain had passed and I had learned all I wanted to know about the logistics of the resurrection. It was far more complicated than I had imagined, especially in the case of any man or woman who had been married twice. I went out to check on Big Red and noticed a small wet spot under the bike. It was just a few drops and appeared to be coming from under the primary cover. I ran my finger along there and it was oily. I’d need to keep an eye on that. I cleaned my windscreen and my visor and wiped the front of Big Red down; otherwise, I’d get water thrown at me when I took off down the highway. There were puddles with oily rainbows in them but for the most part, the rain had given a good wash to the streets. I cranked her up and took off toward Hannibal. I wanted to get there before dark so I could scout out a place to do some stealth camping by the Mississippi River. The air was filled with that wonderful aroma you get after a hard rain: petrichor.   Eventually, I reached highway 61 again and headed north toward St Louis. I had a pretty good run at it until I got to the environs of Saint Louis and when I wasn’t thinking, I turned down Route 66, the road I’d taken a few years back. A sign at the intersection announced the “rock and roll crossroads of America”. I eventually did a U-turn, found 61 again and headed north through the stop and go traffic of strip malls and fast food restaurants. I had to stop and look at my map a few times and to keep calm I recited the mantra: Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile. Only, I didn’t feel a lot like smiling. The traffic was heavy: people texting on their phones, cars cutting in front of me, rut and potholes everywhere and folks racing to get nowhere. I’ve made a lot of trips to nowhere in my life and its reputation is overrated. Better to turn off the phones and the stereos, let go of the feeling that you need to be somewhere else, that somewhere else is better. Be here now. Traffic can be holy too. Eventually, I reached I-70 and then I headed east to O’Fallon and Hwy 79 where I soon began following the Mississippi River again. About 30 minutes before dusk I finally made it to just south of Hannibal and began looking for a place by the river where I might be able to camp undetected. I found a small path where it looked like fishermen parked frequently and which had, a few yards ahead, a dog leg to the left further into some bushes that looked pretty secluded. I jotted down a description of the place so I could find it after dark and then headed into town.

After wandering around the town of Hannibal, I got a steak and some mashed potatoes to eat outside in a beer garden and washed it down with a couple of Leinenkugel Summer Shandys.  While I was sitting there I watched as three tall guys in full biker gear parked their BMWs across the street. They came wandering in after a while and sat at a nearby table and spoke German. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I overheard one word a few times and I wrote it down: Augenblicksgott or something like that. I headed back to the river.

I found my spot and pulled Big Red down the darkened path. At the end, I reversed her around so she’d be pointing toward the way out in case I had to leave in a hurry. I put a small piece of wood that I carry in my saddlebag underneath the side stand to make sure the bike didn’t sink into the soft ground. The river was less than a stone’s throw away.  I took out my LED headlamp, put it on and began pulling out the stuff I was going to need for the night: my foam pad, sleeping bag, a rain tarp to cover the bike and me, my camp stove and some duct tape to cover any reflective surfaces of the bike, in case lights were shone down this way.

The bike looked pretty safe and so I wandered down to the river bank, sat on a log and watched it flow by. It was cold and a breeze was blowing off the dark water. A log went floating by. Rivers are rivers. To treat them as metaphors is to suck the life out of them, out of this precious moment of encountering one. I sat in silence, watched and listened.

Later, when I was getting ready to lie down, I glanced at the underbelly of the bike and again noticed some oil leaking near the primary. I don’t know much about motorcycle maintenance but I know that ain’t good. For years Harleys were known for marking their spots, but not anymore. The machines are rugged but this was a 2004 model and had over 80,000 miles.

The problem with oil around the primary cover is that you can’t be sure where the oil is coming from. It could be coming from any number of places under the bike and traveling to that spot as its one of the lowest points, especially when the bike is leaning over on its stand. I got some brake cleaner out of the saddlebag as well as some Gold Bond Foot Powder.  I cleaned the area out with the brake fluid and then threw powder all over the metal. In the morning I should be able to tell where the oil’s coming from.

I hung my leather jacket over the windscreen to block out any reflection and patted my trousers to make sure I still had my wallet and my phone on me. They were there. I took out my phone to check for any voice messages and, hell, there were six of them, all from Colin, Hannah and Joe. Dang it, I’m in trouble. How did I miss hearing them? I checked the volume and for some reason, it was turned down. The last voice message was from Hannah.

“Daddy? Why aren’t you answering my calls? Where are you? We had a deal that you would call Colin or me every night and you didn’t call him last night and you haven’t called me tonight. Where are you? I’m getting mad at you dad! I worry about you. Please phone!”

I loved hearing her voice. I felt something tugging from deep inside my chest and a tear built slowly under my left eye. I played the recording again just to hear her voice. The tear fell. I’d better phone her.

“Hi, Hannah!”

“Daddy. Why haven’t you been answering your phone?” She nearly shouted. Hannah was a small young woman, about five foot nothing, but she had a powerful voice.

“Sorry, darling. I must have accidentally turned the sound down.”

“And you’re just checking it now? You didn’t phone Colin yesterday.”

I chortled a little. “I know you won’t believe it but I forgot.”

“That’s not funny daddy.”

“Sorry, sweetheart. Lots of things happen when you’re on the road. It’s easy to forget things.”

“Even with our name and numbers tattooed on your arms?”
“Colin, told you, huh?”

“Let’s not worry about that now.” The phone went silent. I could picture what she was doing. Whenever she wanted to wipe the slate clean, start over, she did arm gestures that she had learned from me over the years from watching my Tai Chi: a move called parting the wild horse’s mane. I heard her sigh, the out-breath that always signaled that she had finished. “Okay, Daddy, we’ll start over. Can you make sure that you call us once a day?”

“I will.”

“It’s probably me you’ll be calling since I’m guessing you’re on this side of the Mississippi now.”

“How’d you know that?”

“You called Colin from Memphis, remember. It’s right on the river.”

“That’s right.”

“What road did you take across?”

“The interstate.” I forgot its number. I’ve never been able to remember highway numbers.

“That’s good.”

And then I remembered something. “I also took the ferry across. Had a good chat with the captain of the ship.”

“Dad?”

“Yep!”

“Why did you cross the Mississippi River twice?”

Aw hell. “Actually darling it was three times. I was trying to take a shortcut and accidentally went back over it again.”

“Dad, not another shortcut. You’ve never been good with shortcuts.”

“You’re right. Never been good with them. Remember that so you don’t see it as another sign that something’s wrong with me now.” Felt kinda proud of myself after that comeback.

“I love you daddy.”

“I love you too darling.”

“So where are you now dad?”

“I’m in Hannibal Missouri.”

There was an extended silence. “Hannibal? Isn’t that north of St. Louis?”

“Sure is. Nice river road though.”

“Why are you way up there? It’s the wrong way to LA!”

“There ain’t no right way to LA Hannah. Folks can get there any way they want. Why they would want to go there is a whole ‘nother question.”

“Dad, you’re trying to be funny so you can distract me. You always do this.”

“I’m sorry sweetheart. I don’t have any set route out there to LA. I’m just seeing where I’m led to.”

“By God, daddy? Again?”

“You got anyone better in mind?”

“You’re looking for omens and signs and portents. This is the Universe, God and the Tao thing all over again, isn’t it?”

“Not so fast young lady.”

“Daddy, you remember you did this last year? You were heading up to Atlanta to see Uncle Jeff and you ended up in Key West Florida?”

“Got a hankering for some oysters. I wanted to see the clear blue water of the keys. Wanted to have a drink at Sloppy Joe’s where Hemmingway used to write.”

“Okay dad. Okay.” When she moved from calling me daddy to dad I could always tell her patience was running thin. “So you use these signs to help you decide which way to go?”

“And yuanfen.” I surprised myself remembering that word.

“What’s that?”

“Chinese word for synchronicity.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s kind of like fate, with an attitude. The Chinese have a saying for yuanfen which means that ten years of good deeds or meditation bring two people to cross a river in the same ferry, and a hundred years of these bring two people to rest their heads on the same pillow.”

“How is it dad that you remember all of these things when you forget what you had for lunch?”

“Yuanfen.”

“Whatever daddy.” She’d switched back to daddy. She was starting to like me again.

“I miss you darling and I can’t wait to see you!”

“Well then hurry up and get here daddy! I love you!” And then we said goodbye. Oh God. Those feelings of love and longing we have for our children. I went to put my phone in my pocket and a piece of paper fell out. It was the German word I’d written down earlier. I typed it into the search engine on my phone. Augenblicksgott. “A minor god that passes through in the blink of an eye and has a positive, momentary effect on events.” Kind of like a guardian angel, but of a lower rank, who has good intentions, but only works part time. My kind of angel.

I drifted off to sleep with the sounds of the Mississippi River flowing into my dreams.

 

Chapter Ten

Day Five – Hannibal, Missouri

 

When we are driving, we tend to think of arriving, and we sacrifice the journey for the sake of the arrival. But life is to be found in the present moment, not in the future. In fact, we may suffer more and more after we arrive at our destination. If we have to talk of a destination, what about our final destination, the graveyard? We do not want to go in the direction of death; we want to go in the direction of life. But where is life? Life can only be found in the present moment. Therefore, each mile we drive, each step we take, has to bring us into the present moment. This is the practice of mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh
As soon as I saw light’s shadow creeping in under the tarp I got up. Lord, I was cold and stiff. I did some Chinese exercises to limber up a bit and I walked back down to the river, sat on a log on a high bluff and watched the river flowing.

Later I went back to my bike, fired up my old Optimus 8 stove and had a cup of coffee and some beef jerky from my saddlebag. I watched the steam rise off the coffee.

I began packing my stuff up and came upon a can of Gold Bond foot powder sitting on the ground. What the hell did I have this out for? My feet are all right. Then I remembered the oil leak and got down on the ground and climbed back under the bike. I could see a tiny rivulet of oil running just from the primary cover. So that’s where the leak is. That can be dangerous. Oil can blow from there onto the chain or the tire and cause me to have an accident. That cinches it. I’ve got to get that fixed as soon as I can.

With the atlas spread out on the Harley seat I was able to locate Osceola, Iowa. I had no reason to go there other than the number that came to me the other night in a dream and then the phone call to the diner, but that was good enough for me. Sometimes, to get your attention, the Universe hits you over the head with a frying pan; other times it speaks in whispers and wrong numbers. I figured Osceola was about 212 miles away. I’ll head in that direction unless Divine Providence or yuanfen intervene and take me somewhere else. Even when nothing’s happening something’s happening.

I wrote down my notes in my journal, finished packing, cranked up Big Red, let her warm up for a while and then headed out. The ride along the river was beautiful. The Mississippi played hide and seek with me ducking behind the levee, the bluffs, the cottonwoods and maples and the alluvial floodplains. When no one was around I let out a few “yee hi’s” and “thank you God’s”. I stopped at a gas station, cleaned up and got some orange juice to drink. Back on the bike I came to a junction and wasn’t sure which way to go. I remembered my backup plan. When in doubt, go left first and the next time, go right. I vaguely remembered doing this once already on the trip so I headed right this time. It was a good road, well maintained and soon I came upon another huge bridge. It was over a big river too, just like the Mississippi which, as soon as I entered Illinois, I realized it was.

I laughed, turned Big Red around and headed back over the Mississippi for the fifth time. I rode till I hit Highway 61 again and headed north. The air was crisp, cool and the sky was azure with a few oyster colored clouds in the west. I could smell a wood fire burning and heard the sound of a train horn in the distance. I crested one hill and the road began jogging beside a train track. Moments later I heard a loud horn and watched as a Norfolk Southern train appeared and trudged its way south. I kept looking for an open boxcar. I remember someone saying that people loved trains so much because they represented our two most primal urges – ‘I want to go home’ and ‘Get me the hell out of here’.

Just outside Burlington, Iowa I hit Highway 34 and headed west. It was a two-lane road, which I never mind except at night when deer are around and in the daytime when the trucks whizzed past. A few miles down the road I stopped at a gas station, filled up and then parked the bike on the side so I could take a break for a while. I got some coffee and a pecan roll and sat outside on the curb. I watched the maneuvers of a tanker, skillfully going forward and reversing, weaving its way into the parking area.

“Damn,” I said as he climbed out of his cab. “Takes some skill to back that thing in here.”

“This one’s easy compared to some.” He walked toward the back of the tanker, put on his work gloves and began pulling out a refueling hose.

“Where you heading?” He asked, throwing the question over his shoulder as he began hooking things up.

“LA.”

“Where you coming from?”

“Georgia.”

He cocked his head and stared at me. “Most people don’t go from Georgia to California by way of Iowa.”

“Reckon not. Just doing a bit of sightseeing.”

“Married?” He pulled a lever and the fuel started flowing into the underground tank.

“Not anymore. Was for 28 years. Wife passed from cancer about three years ago.”

“Mine died about two years ago. Cancer too.”

I shook my head. “It’s hard man.”

He stared at me, briefly nodded and looked away. Then he glanced back. “I’ve been going out with this woman who’s been divorced for 12 years. One day her husband just up and announced that he was gay.”

“Well, I’ll be doggone.”

“Yep. I like her a lot but it’s hard to let go of the old memories.”

“Who says you have to?”

He sat down beside me. “Oh you have to all right or it gets too crowded. Not enough room for anything new.”

“Reckon so.”

He stood up and I did as well and we introduced ourselves and he walked back over to his tanker. A few moments later a sheriff’s car pulled up and the driver rolled his window down. Damn, how did those South Carolina cops find me so quickly?

He pulled his sunglasses down a bit on his nose and glared at me. “Hell, you can always tell when it’s May.”

“Why’s that?”

He leaned his elbow on the door. “All you old retired farts are out on your Harleys while the rest of us are working.”

“Somebody’s got to do it.”

“Where you from?”

“Georgia

“Went to Atlanta once. Worked with the GBI. A man from here, he was a bastard, killed his girlfriend and fled. The only lead I could find was a piece of paper in his home with an Atlanta address on it. I called the GBI there and give them his description and the address and by the time I landed there they already had him in custody. Good people.”

I nodded.

“Where you heading?”

“LA.”

“Don’t know why anyone would want to go there. It’s a cesspool out there. All of them are assholes.”

“My daughter and her husband live out there. I’ve met some nice people there.”

He leaned back, pushed his sunglasses back up on his nose and sized me up. “Well, you must be an asshole too.”

I nodded. “I am that.”

He laughed. “Be safe”. He rolled his window back up and tore off.

I walked back to the bike and noticed a wet stain on the concrete under the primary. It looked like she was leaking more. I needed to get this looked at soon.

 

The wind started to pick up as I got back on Highway 34 and headed west. A thunderstorm was building in the south, charcoal blue and nacreous colored clouds scudded across the sky. Thank God I wasn’t going that way. The old biker saying is that the only good view of a thunderstorm is in your rearview mirror. The winds were coming from the south-east at I’d guess 20-25 mph but fairly constant. Usually I could just lean a little toward the wind to compensate. All bets were off though when the 18 wheelers started passing me me on this two-lane road. The usual forces of physics seemed suspended. Sometimes when the trucks passed, the wind in their wake was calm, other times it was like being hit by a wave at high tide.  Still, the road was straight and ‘God willing and the creek don’t rise’ I should make it to Osceola before dark.

About an hour and a half from Osceola I started seeing signs saying: detour ahead.  I let out a deep breath. Trust the road. Enjoy the ride. Soon though I came upon another sign announcing the detour was a mile ahead. As long as it wasn’t left, south toward the building thunderstorm I’d be all right. A mile later, the detour had us heading south.  At least the wind problem was gone as I was heading directly into it. The sky was dark and ominous now and I could see a curtain of rain falling on the horizon. Should I stop and put on my rain suit or keep going? The detour’s probably only a mile or two and then I’ll be heading north again.

Fifteen miles later the rain began slashing down. I pulled over to put my rain suit on but I was soaked before I was finished. The wind was gusting and the bike teetered slightly on its stand. I went to crank her up and the starter stuttered and then stopped. The electrical display went dark. I figured that it must be a loose battery cable. Unfortunately, the battery compartment was underneath the seat and not easy to get too. I un-bungeed all my gear and set the stuff on the wet ground. I took off the backrest and the screw holding the seat on and I pulled it off. My hair was soaked and rain was pouring down my face. The cable to the negative was loose and I tightened it. I tried the starter again and the bike roared. I put everything back into place and headed off again. The rain was lashing. My windshield was pockmarked and beaded drops clung onto my helmet visor. The left side of my face began to hurt. It’s a problem I’ve had for years called Trigeminal Neuralgia. My head doesn’t like barometric pressure changes. The pain moves around popping up in my forehead, my ear, and my jaw. It felt like someone was playing ‘whack a mole’ in my head.

A couple of miles further down the road and the detour signs pointed north. The rain wasn’t as bad but I was battling the winds again and their strange currency when the trucks passed. I rode past two dead deer lying on the side of the road. A few miles further and I was signaled to head north. I turned and was on 34 again, heading west toward Osceola. I desperately needed coffee and a chance to dry out and soon there appeared ahead of me glowing brightly, one of the physical and spiritual oases of the highway, a Love’s truck stop. I pulled in. Thank you God.

I got a cup of coffee and huddled in a booth, my hands warming around the cup. Some medicine I carry in my leather jacket helped calm the thunderstorm in my head. I looked around. There were four men in baseball caps sitting near me conversing loudly. One was talking about cooking brisket. Another spoke about his vertigo and how he had fallen the other day but managed to hold onto the mail. A small triumph he celebrated by raising his arm. Another spoke about his recent colonoscopy. The fourth talked about his brother.

“Son of a bitch is 66 years old and he’s getting married.”

“Why?”

“Says he’s in love. For the first time in his life. Soulmate.”

I watched as they all shook their heads in unison.

“Hey.” One of the men said staring at me. “Not a great day to be on a bike.”

I mumbled something halfheartedly about any day you get to ride being a good day and continued to warm myself with my hands on my coffee cup.

“Where’re you heading?”

“LA.”

“Whooee, you got a long way to go. Where’re you staying tonight?”

“Osceola.”

“Well, at least that’s not too far.” Another said.

“Know a good place to stay there?” I asked.

They all looked at each other, shoulders hunched or dropped.

“Larry’s Layawhile is pretty nice I hear. Run by an Indian family.” One suggested as the others nodded.

“Thanks.”

The men left and we said goodbye and they wished me a safe trip. I watched through the window as they walked past the bike and took the measure of her. One leaned in close and started laughing, and pointing. I think he noticed the hula girl.

By the time I left the café the rain had stopped and the sky to the west wore a honey apricot glow.  I looked at hula girl and shivered. Somehow between the rain and the winds, her grass skirt had blown off and she was naked. I looked in my saddlebags and on the ground for something to cover up with. I found a piece of Styrofoam from a cup and folded it to make it skirt-like. Then I attached it onto her with a pipe cleaner. That should keep her decent for a while.

About an hour later I pulled into Osceola and spotted Larry’s Layawhile.  I parked the bike by the registration entrance and went inside. The woman behind the desk looked Indian and startled when she saw me. Her left hand flew to her chest. I wasn’t sure if she startled because she didn’t see me coming, or, after I glanced at my scary countenance in the mirror, whether it was because she saw me coming. Regardless, she regained her composure and smiled.

I booked a room for the night and headed back out but not before passing a sign that read. “May all beings be filled with kindness and compassion for one another.”  Amen. Why don’t we ever see those words posted on billboards around the country?

 

I dropped my stuff off in the room and checked my Harley atlas for the nearest dealer. It looked like it wasn’t much more than a mile away. On the way there, coincidentally I rode past the Lancelot Diner, the restaurant I had phoned the other day. It had a black and white neon sign showing a knight with a jousting pole. I pulled over to the side of the road to check it out better.  The building looked like an old railroad dining car, a design that was based on the old Burlington Zephyr. The place looked busy. I headed off again. By the time I reached the Harley shop it was beginning to close. They were riding all the bikes that had been outside on display back into the shop. The roll-up garage door was halfway down. I parked Big Red outside it, climbed under and found the service deck.

“What do you need? We’re getting ready to close.” Said a man with hair like a tonsured monk. He was wearing a Harley shirt with the name Bernard. He also spoke with an accent that sounded German.

“I’m on my way to California. I think I got a primary leak, but there’s probably some other things wrong with her too.”

He grabbed a clipboard, climbed under the door and I followed him. He bent down near the primary cover and ran his finger along the base of it. A coating of oil was on his finger.

“Looks like it. But it could be coming from somewhere else.” He jotted some words down on the sheet on the clipboard. Then he examined the bike moving his head sideways and then squatted near the front. “Front engine mount’s gone too.” He wrote that down. Then he fiddled with the gear shifter. “This is awfully loose.” He jotted it down. “Come on in.”

I followed him back into the service area and he pressed a button to make the door rise.  He went around behind the counter and started tapping on his computer while I looked around the place. There were the usual things in the area: bikes with tags on them fixed or being fixed, new items for touring bikes on shelves or hooks, and parked in the corner was a beautiful black sidecar with the name Formula II on it.

He saw me admiring it. “That’s one of those Motorvation sidecars.” The Harley man said. “They are made right here in Iowa, up in Sibley. Make you a very good deal on it. Want me to hook it up to your bike? Would only take an hour.”

I turned and stared at him. “No thanks. If I had one of those someone might want to ride with me.”

“Well, that’s the point.”

“That’s why I don’t want one. I’m making this trip solo.”

“What’s your name?”

“Monk.”

“Legal name?”

“Rory Connor.”

He stared at the monitor. “Are you in our system?”

“Nope. Just passing through.”

“Where are you staying?”

“Larry’s Layawhile.”

He looked over at me. “I’ll have to check the bike out in the morning. You got a number where I can reach you?”

I paused to think but couldn’t remember. I pulled up my sleeve and read the word “Me” and gave him the number underneath. He finished writing out the work order and had me sign it.

“We’ll get you back on the road as soon as we can.” He said. “I’ll call you in the morning.” He extended his hand. “Name’s Bernard.”

“Monk.” I shook his hand.

“I know.” He smiled.

“Where’s that accent from?”

He stared at me blankly. “I don’t have an accent, you do.”

I laughed. “I get it. You probably get asked that ten times a day.  I lived in Ireland for a while and I used to always get asked about my accent.”

His right eyebrow rose slightly. “I have always wanted to visit Ireland. It looks beautiful.”

“It was, I mean is.”

He turned away and looked at the bike and then back at me, still with little expression on his angular face. In Ireland, they used to say a person like this had a face as long as a Lurgan spade. “Don’t worry about her. I’ll call you when I know something.”

“Thanks man.”

 

On the way back to the motel I walked past the diner. I was tempted to go in but I remembered the expression on the face of the woman at the motel when she saw me and figured I’d better shower first.

 

When I got back to the motel I went into my room and checked my phone. Three calls from Joe. I fell back onto the bed and pressed the call return button.

“Where the hell you been man?”

“Sorry Joe. I had the volume turned down on the phone.”

“Where are you?”

I walked over to dresser and saw a business card for the motel. “I’m at Larry’s Layawhile in Osceola, Iowa.”

“I’ll be damned. Not exactly due west Monk.”

“I’m having a good time Joe.”

“Well hells bells, that’s all that matters, except for this little problem in South Carolina.”

“What’s happening now?”

“Well, the Internal Affairs guys aren’t happy that I won’t give them your phone number. They’re trying to get some kind of warrant for my phone records. Hell, they’re probably tapping this call. The cops I’ve spoken with over there are being really cagey. I can’t get anything out of them. But by the questions they’re asking I think they’re looking for you too and that they’re not going through IA.”

“Like what kind of questions?”

“Like – ‘do you know where the hell he is?’”

“That’ll work.”

“Anything you’re not telling me buddy?”

“Nothing important.” It’s still better that he doesn’t know that I know who the shooter was. In a way, it doesn’t really matter who the actual shooter was. By standing by they’re all shooters, just as much as if they’d pulled the trigger themselves. Silence is a form of consent. Bystanders do it all the time.

“All right buddy. I don’t believe you but I know you’ve got your reasons. I’d be expecting a call from IA soon.”

“I won’t be answering.”

“Well, then they’ll come looking for you. Them and some of those cops. I think if I were you I’d keep my name under wraps for a while and use cash, while I try and take care of things on this end.”

“I will. Thanks Joe.”

“I owe you. You kept me out of prison when we were gallivanting all over China. I love you buddy.”

“I love you too.”

 

I took a shower and felt better. I sprayed some deodorant on me that Colin had given me. I’ll confess that this was the best the Monk had smelled in years. I checked the label and it said: Phoenix. I think my old brand was just called: Broken Old Man scent. I dressed and put on my Harley vest. It’s got two patches on it; one shows a cross and the other is the yin-yang symbol. I grabbed my black Indiana Jones hat and ambled on down to the diner. It was beautiful. An old diner from the past. All silver on the outside with purple and green neon trim. It looked like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. The knight was lit up as well and this time I noticed his jousting pole was pointing toward the parking lot.

Inside, the floor had black and white checkerboard tiles, the counter was silver and there were bright red stools and chairs, and white tables. Ceiling fans spun the old stories overhead. The place was packed and the only room I spotted was at the counter next to two young uniformed cops.  I took a seat. One of the cops turned toward me, sniffed a few times and raised his eyebrows. Must like my deodorant. I smiled at him. He looked worried and turned away.

“What can I get you to drink hon?” A waitress said, suddenly appearing in front of me.

“Coffee please?”

She smiled, turned and left. I spun around on my stool so I could look at everyone. Young couples, old couples, A few men sitting at the counter. Single moms with kids. Black, white and Latino. Nice mix. By the time I had completed my slow spin the waitress was back in front of me pouring coffee into one of those old bone white Victor mugs. Last time I had coffee in one of those cups was in the Majestic Diner on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta in…well, it was a while back.

“You’re Chuck aren’t you?” She said to me with a smile and a wink. “I remember you.”

“Chuck? No my name’s Monk.”

She seemed confused and looked me up and down. She stared at the patch with the cross on it. “That’s right. Monk Chuck! I remember now. What can I get for you?”

“No. It’s not Monk Chuck it’s…”

“Hold on there a second I’ll be back.” She moved beside me to the cash register to take someone’s money.

The cop beside me leaned over and said: “You one of them biker preachers, Monk Chuck?”  I turned and he was smiling at me and extending his hand. “Sorry, I just overheard Betty. I’m Stokes. Nice to meet you.”

I smiled and shook it. “No, she got my name wrong. It’s not Chuck.”

“I heard that. It’s Monk Chuck. Betty’s always getting names mixed up.”

I watched as he elbowed the cop beside him who was staring at what looked like crime photos. “Gunther,” The cop said. “This here is Preacher Chuck.”

“Monk Chuck,” I said without thinking. “I mean Monk…”

Gunther and I shook hands. “Are you one of those motorcycle preachers? I had an uncle that rode with the Christian Motorcycle Association out of Dubuque. But he wasn’t a preacher like you.”

“Well, I’m not a …”

“You decided hon?” I heard the waitress say.

“No ma’am, I’m sorry.”

“Well, you just take your time reverend. We still have some of them specials left up there on the board.” She pointed over her shoulder to a whiteboard with “specials” written at the top.  A few items were crossed out.  She left and went beside me to the cash register and talked to two customers.

“So are you here for a while or just passing through?” Gunther asked.

“Just passing through. Had some problems with my bike and it’s getting fixed. I’m on my way to California.”

“Where you coming from?”

“Georgia.”

“Holy Toledo! You’re going to California from Georgia by way of Iowa?”

“I got lost a few times.”

I watched as he shook his head and then I heard the waitress yell: “Shorty, two naked dogs, and two cows, run them through the garden, walking.”

I heard one of the customers ask her: “Does the hamburger come with onions?”

“No that’s extra. Want them?”

“Yes ma’am.”

She tilted her head and shouted over her shoulder: “Make them cows cry.” She took the order slip and stuck it dangling onto the rail over the kitchen counter.

“Okay hon, you figured it out now?”  She asked me.

I didn’t want to keep her waiting any longer and over her head, on the sign, I saw one of the specials: Hamburger steak. “Hamburger Steak.”

“Blue plate special.” She yelled. She leaned onto the counter toward me, wrote on her pad and said: “How you want that cooked?”

“Medium.” I watched as she stood up and went to yell. I wanted to see what she was going to say now. She caught me looking and managed a worried expression while she yelled: “Medium.”

I smiled at her and she smiled back. “Anything else hon?”

“No thank you, ma’am.”

 

I took the nice warm Victor mug in my two hands and took a sip. The coffee was good. Monk Chuck? I laughed. That was the same name as that mysterious Buddhist monk that helped Joe and I out when we were on the lam in the wilds of China. I shook my head. Whatever happened to him? The two cops beside me, hell, I’d already forgotten their names, their heads were bent in some silent meditation over the crime photos. I peeked and saw a glimpse of the lower legs of a child. On both legs from the foot to about halfway up to the knee, there were symmetrical red burn marks, with even lines at the top of the burn.

“Jesus have mercy.” I uttered.

One of the cops looked at me, smiled and put an arm around my shoulder. “Thanks for the prayer father.” He said. “She’s doing okay.”

“How old is she?”

“Just going on three.”

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. That’s one of the reasons I had to retire from being a social worker. I was crying too much. Couldn’t dam up the grief up anymore. What good is a social worker who cries all the time? When you get older, or wiser, your body just says: why even try to hold the tears back? Whoever said that that was a good thing to do? I glanced at the photos again and the tears began to fall. I took up my napkin and wiped my eyes.

The cop smiled at me and patted me on the back. “It’s all right father. She got out of the hospital today and she’s back with her foster parents now. She’ll be okay.”

I felt myself stiffen. “Did you say she was back with them? Had she been returned home or something?”

“Nah, she’s been with the foster parents for about six months now. She got this burn from stepping into the tub when the water was too hot. It was an accident. Her foster momma blames herself for not keeping the bathroom door shut until the water cooled. You know how kids are around water. She heard a scream and went running into the bathroom and found her in the tub. She called 911 right away. The child’s gonna be all right, don’t you worry.”

“No,” my voice sounded choked by the tears. I coughed to clear my throat.  “No, she isn’t.”

I felt him recoil slightly away from me. When I raised my head he was staring at me.

“Padre, what in the hell are you talking about?”

“Let me see the photos,” I replied. The other cop handed them to me and leaned over to listen.

“You see how there’s an even line at the top of both burns?” I pointed out.

“Yeah.” They replied in unison.

“You don’t get that with accidental burns. With accidental burns, you get splash marks, a more random pattern of burns.”

“What?” One said.

“You also don’t get them on both legs.”

“What do you mean?”

“Who gets into a tub with both feet at the same time? You’d have to hop into the tub to do that. When you get into a tub you only put one foot in at a time. If you put one foot into hot water as soon as you feel it burn, no matter how old you are,  you’re gonna yank it back out, leaving a burn and splash marks on one leg, maybe some small splash burns on the other as well.”

“So what are you saying?”

“Those burns weren’t accidental. The only way a child gets burns like those is when their legs are held down in burning water.”

They both let out deep breaths as if they had been holding them for years. Their bodies came erect, stiffened and they stared at each other. One said: “Let’s go.” They stood up and rushed out.

“I tell you those boys are always rushing somewhere!” The waitress said as she put my plate of food down in front of me.

I managed half a smile and said: “Thanks.”

 

I stared at the food for a while. One plate with a meat and two vegetables, all separated into their own sections. If only life could be that way. Keep things from touching each other. I shook my head. After staring at the food for about five minutes I knew I couldn’t eat anything. I grabbed my bill and stood up by the cash register.

“Honey, you didn’t touch it. You feeling all right? Nothing wrong with it is there?”

“No, ma’am. Sorry, I’m just having problems with my stomach.”

“Well here. Let me at least put it in a container for you to take home.”

“That would be kind of you.”

“It’s no problem at all Reverend Chuck.”

Once I left the place I dropped the bag into the trash can. I walked over to a convenience store and bought two 32 ounce bottles of Corona Familiar, went back to the motel, drank the beer and fell asleep.

I woke up feeling like I had to pee and hurried to the bathroom. Afterwards, I checked my phone. It was midnight and I had missed a call from Hannah. Out in LA, she’d be about two hours behind our time. I turned on the light and saw the motel business card. I phoned her. The phone went to her voice mail. “Hi, Hannah!  Daddio here! I’m in” I glanced at the card, “Osceola Iowa, staying at a place called Larry’s Layawhile. See, how’s that for remembering! Anyway, might be here a few days cause the bike needs some work on it and I was fortunate to find a Harley dealer about a mile away. So, anyway, I’m fine and I hope you are too. I love you darling. Give my love to Bob.”

I went outside for a few moments. The sky was cobalt and a few stars were trickling in light from long ago. There was a chill in the air, a sense of one last frost before winter surrendered.

Porches on Country Roads; A Ride-by View.

Folks from the southern part of the USA love their porches. If you find a home in the south that was built without a porch the odds are 10-1 it was constructed by a northerner. Maybe we love them so much because they’re hallowed remnants from the long hot summers we had before air conditioning and television came along. Or, maybe they’re from our love of hospitality, good company and storytelling.

Riding my old 1973 BMW through northwest Georgia these last few weeks I decided to concentrate on porches, just porches. The first thing I noticed is that folks are not out on them as much as they used to be. Only twice did I see people sitting out on their porches. Maybe they’re lured inside by the attraction of air-conditioning and taped episodes of shows like Game of Thrones. It is still hot here in Georgia in these waning days of August, so I can understand this decision. But even so, you can’t beat the feeling of a cool breeze under a shady porch, maybe with a whiff of jasmine in the air. Out on the porch it’s easier to let go of your worries and connect with the simplicity of the past.

So while I rode, when I could take my eyes of the road, I perused what was perched on porches.

There were the typical porches with swinging benches, rocking chairs and gliders. Others had stiff plastic chairs that folks had probably gotten from a dollar store within walking distance away. I remember riding past one house a few times that contained a solitary chair on the porch. What must have happened to someone that resulted in their choosing to have only one chair on the porch? A variety of existential possibilities came to mind and none of them were happy ones. Some porches had old sofas and reclining chairs. Most had coffee tables. Many had blooming plants in clay pots, others had hanging baskets. A few had wind chimes. Some had overhead ceiling fans just in case mother nature needed a boost. Many had flags proclaiming loyalty to some college, country or cause. Other porches had expanded beyond their original functions and contained barbecue grills, refrigerators and personal gyms. One had multicolored clothes drying on a line and children’s toys, scattered around like old memories. Twice I saw small statues of St Francis of Assisi.

I remember two quotes attributed to him:

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.

Great words to keep in mind in these divisive times. But it won’t do any good just sitting inside chewing on them.

Go on out on the porch, drag out another chair, fix some iced tea and invite someone to sit down and have a chat. Then, just feel that healing breeze.

1973 BMW R60/5 Running Again! Thomas Wolfe – You Can Go Home Again; There’s Life After the Kids Have Grown.

One photo above is of me recently picking up my 1973 BMW R60/5 from the Blue Moon Cycle in Atlanta. I was one happy boy! Brief back story: I owned a R60 from 1978 until 1989. I reluctantly, but happily because of the reason, sold it in 1989 as my first child was about to be born. My then wife convinced me that an expectant father shouldn’t be riding a motorcycle and besides, we needed the money for the baby’s nursery.

Also above, is a recent picture of my first child and me!

Years later (2013) and that baby was now 24 and the other kids were grown and independent so it was time for a trip down memory lane. I found a BMW on eBay and bought it.

Here’s the original story from a few years ago. https://2cyclepaths.com/2013/07/31/the-new-addition-to-the-family/

I rode her for about a year until I was having clutch and other problems so I retired her to the garage. This year, 2017, I finally came up with enough extra money to get her fixed. And here’s she is! My 44 year old BMW.

I rode her the sixty miles home from Atlanta and she did great. Thank you Blue Moon for an excellent job!

Thomas Wolfe said: “You can’t go home again.” And maybe he was right in some ways. But you can ride your old motorcycle model again. There’s life after the kids have grown.

Safe riding.

100,000 Miles on my 2004 Harley Road King Classic

WP_20170712_13_06_25_ProThe photo is of my odometer just after it had turned over 100,000 miles. I was exiting I-75 at exit 312 in Calhoun, Georgia, pulled over and snapped the photo. I bought Big Red from my good buddy El Jefe Stafford, who nurtured her for her first 25,000 miles. When I moved home to Georgia after being in Ireland for 16 years I didn’t have any vehicle to drive. My buddy loaned me Big Red. I eventually bought a Jeep Wrangler and an old BMW but Big Red has been my lifeline, physically, mentally and spiritually. I have put 75,000 miles on her in the last 5 years, riding to work, taking trips and going cross-country 4 times, including Alaska once. (Stories from those trips are in this blog.) That’s a lot of silent miles to think, reflect, give thanks and pray. And I’m hoping to stick around to watch her cross the 100,000 mile mark again. The mileage is no huge deal. I met a guy out in Arizona who had 250,000 miles on his BMW and a woman passing through Rome, Georgia who had even more than that on her old Harley Shovelhead. And she did all her own repairs! At the end of the day, all we have are our own little challenges, goals and victories and with a grateful heart, that should be enough for us.

Days 20-21: Janesville, Wisconsin to Louisville, Kentucky; 406 Miles; Blue Highways; Riding with Rilke; Trusting the Road.

The last two days I have stuck to the back roads. Highway 47 and then 150. It has been good for my soul to be on the old blue highways. Rusty red barns, grain silos, water towers with the names of the towns on them, red wing blackbirds, small towns with courthouses in the center square, rich, black agricultural fields – first no seedlings, then small plants, then larger growth the farther I headed south. My old pappy used to say: “knee high by the fourth of July” and at the rate we’re going our corn should have no problems reaching that goal.
I’ve been much more relaxed the last two days through just letting go, assuming that wherever I am is the right place for me to be. Find the road you think is the right one and just go with it. And hold onto your hat. What more can you do after you pray and open yourself, but trust? The poet Rilke once said:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Embrace the uncertainty.
In our life we can have periods of long stability and happiness and then, all of a sudden, something happens and we’re thrown off balance. Nothing’s permanent. Another Rilke quote comes to mind:
“Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divinings, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”
Respect the silence. Embrace each moment and ride safely my friends.

Day 16: Thunder, Lightning, Rain, Gusty Winds; 98 miles; Deadwood to Wall, South Dakota.

I had a wonderful breakfast at the 1899 Inn and then rode down to Starbucks for some coffee and to write my blog. I kept looking for Nancy (see yesterday’s blog) but I didn’t spot her anywhere. As I sipped on my coffee and wrote, I noticed the sky was darkening. I checked the radar on my phone and it showed a big storm coming. I looked out the window again and the rain started pouring. Since I had nowhere to go and no time to be there I decided to wait it out. I keep realizing things while I’m on this trip. I was thinking about how I was tempted to say that it was “a bad day”, but where does that idea come from? It means I must have a mental construct of what a good day is and a bad one. Once again, where does that come from? Why do I label one day as good and another as bad? Aren’t all days equally beautiful if you don’t have any expectations? So much stress comes from expectations. We believe that things must be a certain way and get upset when they’re not. There’s certainly something beautiful in watching and feeling a thunderstorm, if we look and just accept things as they are. The temperature began dropping as well. The day before it was in the 90’s and today it had dropped to the low 60’s.
After 2 hours the rain cleared and I thought I’d head out. With it being colder I decided to put on my leather jacket. The only problem was that the jacket was strapped on the bike and the outside of the jacket was soaked. It was as heavy as an anchor. I put it on anyway and then put my rain jacket on top. I didn’t get far before the rain came back, puddling the road and accompanied by a wind that looked, and felt, like it was lost and in a hurry to get somewhere. This resulted in me being blown around on the interstate, and the wind trying to steal my helmet again. What’s so special about my helmet that it’s dead set on yanking it off?
I managed to ride about 98 miles and got off at Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drug Store. I decided to find a place there. The lowest price was a Super 8. I hunkered down there, except for a brief spell at Wall Drug and the Badlands Grill and Saloon. In its own way, it was a beautiful day.

Day 13: Took it Easy; Rough Roads; Glaciers and Snow Covered Mountains; Divine Providence.

Slept late. It was great not having to pack up and leave, as I did most mornings. I walked into town and had breakfast at the Two Medicine Grill. Then I walked back and took a nap. Before noon I headed toward St Mary’s and Glacier National Park, and the “Going – to – the – Sun Road” which cuts across the park. On the way there were signs saying: Road construction: motorcycles should take alternate route. I slowed the bike, looked around and said: what alternate route? So I went ahead. There were about 5 sections where the road had eroded or was being repaired. Loose rocks and gravel. It wasn’t too bad. Then there were some nice twisty roads which were enjoyable being able to lean into the curves. I was about 30 miles from the Canadian border. Finally, I made it into the park and rode along St Mary’s lake. The mountains loomed high behind them and were riddled with snow. I’ll try and attach a photo. The scent of the fir trees was amazing. The road was only open for about 15 miles because they were still plowing the snow from the road. So, I probably missed the best of the park. And while it was spectacular I thought about places that I had ridden through that were even more so: parts of Yosemite with my buddy El Jefe and the road from Canmore, Alberta to Banff to the Saskatchewan River Crossing with my friend Kevin.
According to a recent USA Today article: “The park’s glaciers are estimated at 7,000 years old and “peaked,” the USGS (United States Geological Survey) said, in the mid-1800s during the “Little Ice Age.” In 1850, the park had an estimated 150 glaciers. Since that time, its lost about 85% of its ice area and now has less than 30 glaciers.” It’s predicted that by the year 2030 there will be no more glaciers in the park. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you believe in climate change or not.
I gassed up Big Red and packed before I went to bed. As I fell asleep I kept thinking: Where in the hell will Divine Providence take me tomorrow? Come to think of it: Where will It take you?

Day 7: Following Signs, Omens and Portents; A Practical Guide for the Clueless.

I was filled with sadness heading out this morning. My eyes were burning. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my kids, Colin and Hannah, and Hannah’s husband Bill. They live so far away. I’d already been feeling sad what with the recent bomb in Manchester and the sudden death of a friend back home. But it’s time to leave.
This is the part of my journey that I’m leaving up to divine providence, so I have no destination in mind. I hope to be guided in my choice of direction by clear omens, hunches and uncertain feelings of certainty. However, it’s one thing to trust that the old signs and portents will appear and it’s another to find oneself stuck at an intersection in the middle of Anywhere, USA and having no clear inclination, or even funny feeling as to which way to go.
In one of my novels, Hope Bats Last, I address just such a possibility and come up with this guidance for the protagonist:
Always head away from bad weather, unless some omen tells me otherwise. When I don’t know which way to go, go left and then right the next time, and then left… If I must choose between two towns and can’t, choose the one that starts with the earliest letter in the alphabet. Trust the journey.
I’ve added a few since:
Don’t book any motels in advance because you don’t know where you’re going.
When you have a choice of motels and feel no preference, choose the one with a number in its name. If there’s more that one, pick the motel with the highest number. If there are no numbers pick the one whose name comes first alphabetically.
Talk to anyone who wants to talk with you for as long as they want to talk.
Don’t avoid homeless people; they could be Elijah the prophet in disguise.
If someone mentions a place I should visit, I must go there.
If I have a funny feeling about something, I should listen to it.
What can go wrong?