DANDELIONS

by Charley Foster

God is the Good Shepherd and His flock wanders some mighty strange fields. One never knows what He has in mind, but you know it’ll work out. You just have to believe in Him; you know — trust in, cling to and rely on? Like the Bible says in the book of Romans, chapter eight, verse twenty eight: “All things work together for the good of those that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.” The question is still the same as when He posed it by the Sea of Galilee: Do you believe Him? Do you trust Him? Do you love Him?

“D**n!” The man glared out the window, down at his perpetual enemy. “Those stinking weeds are taking over the yard, again.”

His young son, Dan, could not formulate the feeling he had for his Daddy, one composed of love, delight and elemental awe for this giant who could laugh so loud, run so fast and throw him high in the sky with no effort at all. Whatever was out there, it was instantly his enemy and fear. If Daddy didn’t like it, he didn’t like it.

“Oh Dan.” That was mommy, ”Don’t get overheated. They’re just little flowers. They’ll be gone, soon enough.”

“Right.” the man replied, “Then we’ll have a forest of them, after those seeds start blowing around.”

***

Down on Elmore Street, there’s a little mission. The “Gospel Lighthouse” has been there for decades. Mostly, it serves an exclusive clientele of hard-core homeless and destitute wanderers. Many of its daily visitors are members of long-standing, having presided over the slow, steady decline of the city core.

The current proprietors of this establishment are an interesting couple. Elmer and Kathleen Heider have been here for almost ten years. Both small and slim, they are approaching seventy with frightening haste. There is though, something unique about this couple. They are in love with their God, each other and what they do. Most of the people they feed and house, on a daily basis, neither recognise this condition, nor would they understand it, if they did. Even those who support their efforts; food suppliers, churchmen and the local police, are unaware of the deep, abiding passion of their lives. These others only look and wonder at the commitment evidenced by the amount of grief and struggle these two endure to help so many seemingly ungrateful wretches.

Ingratitude is a weed that grows in many a heart. Elmer and Kathleen were, for many years, an upstanding part of the congregation of a middle-sized church. A church whose pastor was known for his knowledge of the Word, its congregation for their liberality and public service.

The story of the couple’s departure is one of many, sad and tawdry; a church secretary with more body than sense, willing to accuse falsely to protect her lover. And Elmer, her chosen scapegoat, abandoned by lifelong companions at the first breath of scandal, sided only by a loving, if doubtful wife, was left to find comfort where it might be found. God’s Grace being sufficient, the helpless victim was called upon to manage a troubled and unpopular mission to down-and-outers.

Oddly enough, Elmer has not been abandoned by his entire congregation. He has an uncanny ability to pull life examples from the driest of Scriptures. Even his old pastor, recognising the uniqueness of this gift, has contrived to sit at his feet. Persuading a young member of his congregation to visit the mission, once a week and tape Elmer’s teaching, under the guise of “checking for heresy”, he gains valuable insight into the Scriptures.

***

Rosa Parks Alvarez

Once again, Al was in a mood. Always on Fridays, it’s a mood. “I just don’t wanna’ to deal with dis.” she thought, as she approached the big, pink LeSabre.

“Al, honey, dey ain’t nobody ‘roun’. Why don’ we get us a bite and try it latuh?”

His big, brown eys rounded on her, lookin’ strange in the shadowed car. She never knew what to expect, at times like this. It was like living with a big, mean dog, never knowin’ ifn he was gonna’ turn and git you.

“Sure babe.” He smiled. “Li’l early in the day. Jus’ lemme git some butts over der and we’ll check out some ribs.”

She watched him stride across the street to the little store. She wished he’d stop all his smokin’. Din’t he listen to th’ radio? Smokin’s bad.

The clerk looked up from inside his cage, as the big man walked in. He’d been readin’ a piece by Louis Farrakan. He wondered at the man he saw. Black, middle aged, probly’ pushin’ or pimpin’. He felt a wave of disgust, then put on his “make a sale” smile.

“Bin hot today.”

“Yeah, man. Uh. look, lemme have some Marbro lahts.”

“Sorry dood, all out.”

“Oh man. Whatchoo mean? I got’s to have my lahts!”

“Sorry dood, bin dat kinda mo’nin’. Truck’s late. I got’s nuthin’ but th’ usual crap.”

Al turned and punched the door open with the heel of his hand. The bang it made was at once pleasing and unsatisfying. He walked across the street, rage building inside him. He never let it show on his face, kept it inside, until he was ready to explode.

Rosa was in the front seat. He never liked his crib in the front seat. Front seat was for brothahs and “prospects”. She reached over to open the door, as he approached. She was doin’ her slow and sexy routine. He jus’ wasn’t for it. Not today.

He reached through the window, grabbed her arm and jerked her out of the car. She gasped in pain, started to say something. He caught her in mid air with a roundhouse slapping right to the head. She fell to the pavement and he kicked her in the gut. She tried to rise on one arm and he brought his right fist under in a wicked blow to her cheek. The impact sounded like someone dropped a melon. Her head spun, taking her whole body with it. She lay there, helpless, near unconcious. His blood was up now. He wanted to hurt something, somebody. All the rage and pain of his life boiled up in incoherent curses as he kicked at her, punched down into her helpless form. He began laughing hysterically. A high, tittering sound, as he danced around her, taunting, cursing, striking.

After a few minutes, the passion passed. He looked at her, lying there, blood flowing from her face. Somehow, he felt an almost pity for Rosa. Then, he turned, got in his car, started it, and without a backward glance, drove off to find some Marlboro Lights.

An eternity later, Rosa moved. Her world was all red pain. Pain and bewilderment. One eye could open a little. She saw she was in the street. She tried to rise, crawl to the curb. But, pain like lightning and thunder hit and darkness swept over her.

Once more, she awoke in pain. She was on the sidewalk. No one seemed to be around. They never were. Not when there was someone needin’. She grabbed hold of a sign post and tried to pull herself up. She was still very dizzy and confused. Didn’t know where she was. Only knew she was in real trouble. Can’t be weak on the street. Can’t stop movin’. Too many people lookin’ fo’ a easy mark. Somehow, she was on her feet. Staggered to the storefront. Leanin’ on it, she started walkin’, stumblin’. Din’t know where she was goin’. Only knew she had to. Her insides felt like boilin’ water. Her right side was weak and slow. She knew real fear. Fear that Al had finally done somethin’ real, honest bad to her.

She’d met Al, three years ago. Thought he was so-o-o cool. Good lookin’? Had him some money and a car? She was fourteen, then. Bin on her own fo’ a year or two? Al, he had him a line. He was some kinda’ talker, that man. Had her in he crib in no time. Three years of hard days, cold nights and mean streets. Al could do his weight in crack. She’d never seen the like. And, man, you jus’ didn’t cross the dude. Had him a bad rep. She thought he shoulda’ gone on. But, he was content, jus’ runnin’ he crib and pushin’ a little. Been offerred, time or two. Jus’ wasn’t interested. And the people, dey jus’ walk away. Which told you a lot ‘bout d’ man.

Someone said something to her. She stiffened with fear. Some gang dude find her and it was ovah. She tried to ignore it and walk on. But, she jus’ couldn’t move ver’ fas’.

“Oh, my dear. What’s happened to you?” It was a woman’s voice. A white woman. A cop? Didn’t sound strong enough. She tried to say something. Jus’ mumbled.

Hands. Small, but surprisingly strong, wrapped around her, took some of the weight. Her ribs hurt where they touched her. But, everything hurt anyway, and she liked the idea of someone trying to help. She was helped through a doorway. Out of the cruel stare of day. There was noise. Bus station? No, radio. Some dude tolkin’.

“That’s right! Just ten dollars in my special envelope and the blessing WILL come down. God has told me Himself, that those who help ME, help…..”

“Elmer. Can you come here? This girl is badly hurt.”

Footsteps, small and quick. “What is it, Kathleen? Oh my. Take her to a cot. I’ll get some things to clean her up.”

Rosa felt herself led to a dimmer room. She was let down on a stiff bed. Didn’t creak. Probly’ jus’ wood. She didn’t care. She felt somehow safe and with that, let herself slide back into darkness.

Rosa lay there for three days. Calls to the local hospital revealed the desperate state of city/county finances. Nobody had room for a beat-up prostitute. Even the charity ambulance service was over budget for the month. No help at all. A local church had a doctor who would come down and lend a hand. He was young, without the kind of money it takes to run a free clinic. But, he did sew up the cuts. Got some drugs into her.

After three days, Rosa awoke in delirium and pain. She screamed, wept, cried, whimpered, then slept another day. Whatever was going on inside her was far beyond the understanding of those who prayed for her, worried over her, prayed some more.

A week after her ordeal began, Rosa was able to move around, albeit slowly. She examined herself in the mirror of the little toilet room. Her face was one purple bruise, from chin to hair, all up the left side. She had thick tape on her ribs. Must of got some broke. Her nose had not been broken, this time. It was small and hard to hit and she was secretly vain about it. She thought it her best feature. She looked at her reflection and vilely cursed Al. Something burst inside of her. Something strange and strong and very, very evil. She looked at herself some more and a strange determination grew in her. Doubly strange, because she was always one to let others run her life. She’d never done one thing for herself. Well, that was gonna’ change. And it was gonna’ change, bigtime.

Almost a month later, and Rosa was walkin’ the streets again. She turned down every trick, though. Finally, she had a mission in life and she was gonna’ do it, and do it clean. She met a girlfriend who told her where Al was hangin’. Mariel was older, almost twenty and worldly wise as they come. But, when she looked in Rosa’ eyes, something made her shut up and back off. Something was definitely wrong with the girl. That much was plain to see. She had a moment of fear when she thought about Rosa meetin’ up wid’ Al. The dude had nearly offed her, this time, and she wasn’t sure it was a good idea to put them together. But, the word was passed and Rosa walked off, limping a little.

Al was stylin’. Had him a new “prospect”. Betty was young and pretty, full of energy, with a ringin’ laugh dat people pick up ‘cross a room. She was white. Usual, Al didn’t do white. But, dis was speshul stuff. Could be sum bucks had here. And, she seemed to really like him. It always took him, when women fell fo’ him. He didn’t think he’s really good lookin’. He always talked he trash. Ever’body did.

Rosa arrived, unnoticed, outside the party house. There was the usual muscle ‘round. But, dey knew her and waved her on. She found the Buick. Under the passenger seat, Al kept his .357. She didn’t know much about guns. Only seen ’em waved ‘round or used on other men. She wasn’t sho whut she had in mand, jus’ wanted to hurt him. Maybe she’d sell it to some gang membuh, who’d use it in a hit and Al’d get the finger. She thought about going inside and wasting him. She thought for long minutes ‘bout dat. She figured she’d have to get close to do th’ deed. Only, she got scared. Then, when she realized she didn’t have the guts, she started to cry. Put the gun in her purse and walked away, weeping. The muscle saw her walkin’, hand on her head and chuckled to himself. Yeah, ol’ Al had some new stuff. Probl’y blew Rosa off. Well, maybe later, he’d check Rosa out. She wasn’t bad lookin’ and he wouldn’t mind a little side income.

Tuesday, almost a week later. Rosa was walkin’ the street. She hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. Did a trick, the day before. But, all she got was a few hits off a crack pipe. That left her sour and groggy. Ol’ belly was growlin’ at her. She thought of home and momma and how she always put sumpin’ on de table. Wished she was there now. She was all inside her own head, when she heard that voice. It was Al. He was yellin’ at some little white girl. Sounded like she wasn’t gonna do things his way. She was all in his face and yellin’ right back. Bad mistake dat. Best just run away, fas’ as you can. Ol’ Al, he was gettin’ hot. She could see it comin’. Any second, he was gonna’ haul back and bif th’ girl.

Rosa was two people. One was there, livin’ it. The other was lookin’ on, kinda’ not knowing what was up. The liver smiled, kinda shivered a little. The other one looked at all dis. Looked at Al. Hated Al. Hate, like a white column of fire in the middle of her.

Rosa Strolled up, slow and sexy. Al didn’t see her, yet. Had his back to her, yellin’ and wavin’ his arms. She saw herself, like in a movie. Lookin’ good, rollin’ ’em hips, smilin’. She got up close, dropped a hand to her purse.

“Hey, Babe. Got problems?”

“Whut th’? Rosa! Whutchoo doin’, roun….” His eyes dropped, when he heard the click of the hammer, goin’ back.

“Rosa! Shi…” BAM!

Rosa didn’t expect it. The gun just went off. Al was big, Rosa small. The gun was angled sharply up. The high-speed, hollow-point, called a “flyin’ ashtray” because it had little grooves in the lip of the exta-large hole in the front end to help it expand evenly, caught Al under the ribcage, angling up, through the heart. All that explosive energy translated itself into a shock wave that sped through his body. Smashed into his nervous system. Blasted into his brain. Hollow-point bullets are designed to produce a large wound channel, to cause catastrophic bleeding, rapidly dropping blood pressure and to prevent the recipient from travelling very far. Al was dead before his body flopped to the street. The white girl uttered a curse, under her breath, turned and fled. Rosa walked away. She walked clear to the river, deposited the gun for safe keeping, then wandered away. Sometimes, she sat somewhere and cried.

***

Alvin Barnes

Al Barnes was one BAD nigger. Six two, two forty. His basic attitude was one of anger. Anger at white, anger at money, anger at an unfair world that made him have to live in it.

Today, he was angry at being hongry. Things were hot. He couldn’t go back to his pad, had to stay cool. No bread. Had to hit the soup kitchen. He strode in with “mess wif me” written all over his face. Checked the walls and tagged a seat in th’ corner. He’d seen a million places like this. Thirty-eight years of angry, honger and fear. He’d sit through the preachin’, eat the lame stew and blow. He hated the white hyp’crites who ran these dives. Keepin’ his people down and then payin’ lip with cheap food and easy tolk.

Well, he’d chill. Dese bums were nuthin’ to him. Sometimes, though, he wished he could jump on a table, say the right stuff, get everyone behind him and bring this whole da-yum world down in flames. But, dat was talkin’ crazy. People like dat, they jus’ wound up lookin’ in whitey’s gun. No, he’d play his own li’l game. Do what he do, leave ’em wonderin’ who.

The preachin’ started, right on schedule. Some old fool, smilin’ and tolkin’ he trash. “God loves you.” Yeah, well dat’s his problem now, ain’t it? Still, he got uncomforable, listnin’. The seat got hard, the air close. He had to jus’ look down and wait it out.

After eatin’ he made fo’ th’ do’. Got him to da street and went to lookin’ fo a easy take.

***

“Patsy” Green

He looked at the report from Forensics, compared the Coroner’s sheet to the street officer’s and grunted with satisfaction. Another piece of slime gone. Maybe someone would weep. Not him. Nope, that’s just one less piece of grief. Nothin’, really. Just a dead pimp. No witnesses, no weapon, no suspects. Case closed. “I love it”, he thought.

“I just wish they’d all do each other in, so nice and clean, ‘stead of takin’ some innocent bystander with ‘em.”

Patrick M. Green had been on the force for thirty years. He was tired, bored and disgusted with what the once proud department had become. His dad had been wearing the uniform, when his son signed on. “Paddy” Green was a legend, on the street. He was sharp, tough and unbendingly fair. Once, when he’d taken a bullet, while trying to settle a domestic (how they all hated domestics!), even the local hoods had sent flowers. As soon as he could walk, Paddy had thrown them out the window. But, it showed how much respect he had in the community. But, with one Paddy Green around, no one wanted another. So, his son became “Patsy”. After thirty years, he just didn’t care what anyone called him, as long as they didn’t call him at home. Mostly, he just worried about his kids, his house repairs and his wife’s uncertain health. “Four kids, two miscarriages and a lifetime of city pollution must be getting to her”, he thought. The idea that she might be suffering from twenty-six years of worrying about him never crossed his mind.

***

Leonard Wu

Once again, Johnny Lee was doin’ it. Every day, smilin’, singin’ to himself as he worked around the store. Len just sat in the little office and watched on the monitor and toked a smoke. He never could figure Johnny Lee out. Young, smart, black. But, he seemed to be content to put in long hours, making change, sellin’ beer, sweepin the floor.

Leonard had bigger plans. He was really doin’ good with the Wu-Shu. Lookin’

like he was gonna’ do alright in the city tournament. And that meant an instructor’s slot. He could see himself as an instructor: “Yes, Sensei! No, Sensei! As you wish, Sensei!” Yeah. His mom always raggin’ about him not followin’ through with college. Well, he had his own life. Maybe, after a few months instructin’, he’d get a chance to stop a major crime. All kinda places that could take you. Len, he knew the value of publicity. Meantime, he’d sit right here and let Johnny Lee earn him a livin’.

Johnny Lee just made no kinda sense to him. Always that Bible readin’ and singin’ them songs. You’d think there was somethin’ real to all that. Len, he always used to laugh inside, when the instructors had come on with that Buddhist crap. Oh, he could chant with the best of ’em. Do what you gotta’ do.

The air went tight. He saw the dude walkin’ in. Len could tell, this was trouble. Big man. Ruler on the door said over six feet. He had a look on him. Like he wasn’t really here, just lookin’ in from outside. Len reached over, fumbled with his hand and locked the office door. Metal door. No way that guy was gettin’ to him.

Johnny Lee saw him. Big, mean lookin’ dude. Trouble with a capitol “T”. Johnny Lee offerred up a silent prayer. The man came in, cased the whole store in two seconds, grabbed a basket and went to shoppin’.. Like he was gonna’ buy anything. Wasn’t the first time this had happened. All that “innocent customer” move meant was more work, cleanin’ up, afterwards.

Leonard watched, with a growing sense of unreality, as the man went through the motions of shopping. He was movin’ way to fast. People always looked at what they bought. This guy was just tossin’ stuff in, not even checkin’ the prices. Leonard began to tremble. The thought that he could go out there, stop this, take this guy down, drifted through his head like a cloud of smoke. He knew he was good enough. He knew he could do it. He knew he was too scared. Years of dream and practice went away in an instant. He watched the screen with half a mind. Stared into a horrifying abyss with the other.

The man approached the counter. Johnny Lee smiled a quiet smile.

“Evenin’, suh.”

(no reply, just a strange stare.)

He started to lift things out of the basket, felt a trickle of relief. Maybe the guy just…

“Put the money in a bag.”

Johnny Lee faltered at the keyboard.

“NOW.”

“Yes, Suh! Right away!”

He rang up NO SALE and opened the drawer. Taking the bills, he pulled open a plastic bag, from the ready rack and stuffed them in. Then, he pulled the drawer up and got out the bills and checks from under it. In the bag. Handed it over. He couldn’t look the man in the eye. He was too frightened.

The man looked around, spotted the camera.

“That wukkin’?”

“No, Suh. Bin broke, most of a month.” Which was right. The camera worked, recorder was waiting for the repairman. It sat on the end of the counter. He pointed to it. “See?”

The big man glanced. Then, without lookin’ back, grabbed Johnny Lee by the front of his shirt and jerked him over the counter. He dragged him to the door to the storage area.

Leonard was filled with horror. He knew he was watching a murder. Could see it comin’, a mile off. And he felt like dirt. Johnny Lee was the most harmless human being on the planet. And this goon was gonna’ waste him. Gonna do him, right there. He knew it.

Johnny Lee knew it, too. Knew it like he knew the sun would rise. But, something funny was happenin’. He was filled with a calm; a calm so vast, it seemed to fill the whole world. He thought he heard a voice, a voice saying not to worry, all was well. His heart began to beat again. He felt so strong, so right, so sure of what he knew he knew.

Alvin Barnes knew nothing. Nothing but the overwhelming desire to prove his power over another human being. It was like a drug. He felt high, peakin’, rushin all ovah! He pulled the piece from his pants, shoved the kid down to his knees. He was so strong, so real, so full of power!

“Yo’ a daid man!”

Johnny Lee whispered something to himself.

“Whatchoo say?”

“I said, Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.”

“Shuttup! Jus’ shuttup wif yo Jesus crap!”

MY PEACE I GIVE TO YOU

“What th’!” Alvin Barnes looked around. Sounded like a bull horn barkin’ at him!

He cocked the piece, took aim.

WHAT MAN OF YOU, IF HE HAS LOST A SHEEP…

It was so close! He almost fell over. A thought flashed through him. A picture of his ol’ granny prayin’ by his bed, that time he was so sick. He jerked at the trigger. The gun jumped, but didn’t go off. The kid just knelt there, waitin’. Like he knew.

Leonard Wu was shaking all over. Johnny Lee was the closest thing he’d ever had to a friend. He was always so patient, so willing to listen. Even listened to Leonard’s crap about being a big man, someday. And now he was gonna’ die. Leonard felt so empty, so miserable. He began to weep. He whispered to himself. “Please, got to help him. Please.”

He was talkin’ to himself, he thought, then realized he was talking to someone else, to Johnny Lee’s Jesus. “Please, if you’re there. Please help. I don’t know what to do. I thought…I thought… Please! I’ll do anything! Go to church… Please!

Leonard thought for a second. Go to church? If he was lying, wouldn’t Jesus know? The he’d better not be lying.

“look…I’m not …nothing…just. Look. I’ll follow you! Just save Johnny Lee. I’m yours, alright? I’m yours. You get Johnny Lee out of this one, Jesus and I’ll follow you for the rest of my life. Please, save him and me too.”

Alvin Barnes was beginning to sweat. he couldn’t make the gun fire. He took another grip, aimed, closed one eye. He was gettin’ frantic.

FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE SENT…

He began to shake, shake bad. It was like all the bad days after all the bad nights of his life, all rolled into one. He felt like he was bein’ torn apart. He stepped back. This was wrong. He was wrong. Wrong place, wrong time. He had to git. Felt embarrassed. Had to say somethin’.

“Look…I’m … I’m sorry…I”

He turned, stumbled against the counter. His face was inches from the money. There it was. That was his life. A few bucks in a pink plastic bag. That was all of him. He cursed, threw the gun away into a corner. He ran from the store, fell over a trash can.

He got to his knees. The concrete disolved into a series of images: him wit he granny, goin’ to choich; him at the altar, prayin’ fo salvachin; him at he granny’s funeral, cryin’ and lost. Why had she gone and lef him? He loved dat ol’ woman. Why’d she have to die? WHY? He saw her face. It was old, then…it was young. She was smilin’ at him. She was so real. He could almost hear her callin’ him. Callin’ him to supper.

“God, I’m sorry Granny. I been awful bad! I shouldn’ta done these awful things. Jesus? Can you help me. Ah bin real bad!”

He struggled to his feet, tears streamin’ his face. He ran, blindly, sobbing. He ran right into a phone pole at the curb. Didn’t even bounce. Just stepped back, looked at it with incomprehension. He ran, he only knew he wanted to escape, to flee that horrible thing he had become. He’d killed people! Innocent people! Like that boy back there. He was gonna’ kill him! Just like that. What had he become?

“Oh God! Jesus, forgive me! What have ah become? What have ah done?”

Patsy Green stopped at the corner, waiting for the light. Movement caught his eye. A big black man ran from the little “Stop N’ Shop”, across the street. Patsy didn’t see a gun, didn’t hear an alarm. A small black man emerged from the store, stood and watched.

Nothin’ happenin’, he guessed. The big man ran into a phone pole. Patsy could see the tears streaming down his face. He ran into the street and a bus hit him.

***

Luke Broekhuizen

Luke hated driving in the city. He was always nervous. Which was pretty sad, considering he was a city bus driver. He laughed to himself.. What a jerk! Well, it was good money. Actually, it was money. The union got the “good” part. This was his first day on a regular route. He’d been three years temporary. He was trying real hard to prove he was up to it. It was a real strain.

What was it that old guy had said? Something about how we need to relax and trust God more. Yeah, ‘d be nice! He liked that job, more than this one. Every Sunday, he went down town to record old Elmer’s preaching for the pastor. ‘Felt a little guilty about that. Like he was sneaking around, spying on a nice old guy. The real nice part was that he got to listen to it all. Then he’d give the tape to the pastor, who was supposed to be checking on Elmer’s teaching. Personally, he reflected, he thought the pastor was going to school on old Elmer. And that, he concluded, was not a bad thing.

He was smiling, as the light changed ahead of him. He felt as though God was clearing the way. He touched the accelerator peddle a bit, to keep a steady forty-per. He didn’t even have time to think, when the guy ran across the street and into his windshield. The only impression he got was that the guy had been hiding behind a phone pole, as he approached.

Everything slowed way down. His foot was lifting off the pedal. The guy wasn’t even looking, just running. He hit in the middle of the bus’ front. Bent the center divider in as both windshield halves starred. His head smacked hard. His body made a strange, drawn out, thumping sound. Then, he flew away. Just flew away…onto some parked cars. Luke could tell by the way he landed, all loose and floppy, that he was gone.

Luke’s foot came down hard on the brake pedal and the big wheels locked. Good thing the bus was almost empty. Everybody had a seat. Not that the bus could stop that quick, anyway. Even sliding the tires, it took half a block to shut it down.

Luke’s heart welled up with horror. He had just killed someone. He popped the door and leaped to the street. He ran back, with tears welling up. His throat was closed up. He tried to say something, only gagged.

A car stopped by the body. An arm reached out of the drivers window and put something on the roof. It was a little, flashing red light. The man emerged. A policeman, by the look on his face.

“I…He just….he just….ran out! I…couldn’t stop! Couldn’t stop! Just ran out…I..”

“Take it easy, kid. Saw the whole thing. Nothing you could do. Did yer best. Try to relax.”

Luke was looking at the asphalt. “Just nothing….Never had anything like this…ever before….”

A black-n-white pulled up with a sort of hoot from its siren. The uniformed cop helped Luke to sit in the back, explained he wasn’t in trouble. Best witness in the world said he wasn’t at fault. It gave the term “small comfort” a whole new meaning for mister B.

Another bus took the route. Luke was sent home. Leave was mandatory, after an accident. His supervisor, who thought it sad that a promising young driver should have this happen, on his first day; determined to help him along.

Patsy Green took the initial report on the robbery. The M.O. looked very familiar. He thought, not without some satsifaction, that this was one beautiful day. That bad, dead man was most likely, responsible for several dead convenience store clerks. And, since he was first on the scene, he got the collar.

The hard part, though, was that clerk. That kid was absolutely unfazed. Like he did this before breakfast, every morning. Said that Jesus told him it would all be okay. While he was taking down the details and collecting the gun, another guy came out of the back. Chinese, maybe Viet Namese. Started blubbering and hanging on to the black kid. Patsy thought, maybe boyfriends. But, no. Turned out that kid was carrying on about how Jesus saved his best friend and how Jesus was gonna’ be his best friend now and so on. Instead of triumphant, Patsy Green went home that night, a much troubled and thoughtful man.

***

Bryce Ranch Litton

Bryce was an important man. He’d been important to his wife, four kids and some people he never knew. He’d gone to college and gotten a degree in Business Administration. Entering the family business, he’d proven adept at handling financial affairs and entertaining customers and colleagues at well planned parties. These, however had become his downfall, as he developed a weakness for alcohol. As he prospered, married and sired four children, his mental and emotional state became more and more dependent upon artificial stimulation. After another ten years, his condition had so deteriorated that he was no longer trusted with business affairs and was side-tracked into lesser and lesser responsibilities. That he was entirely unaware of his failing was both evident to family and friends and was the finally damning evidence that drove him from the business and social life he had so easily assimilated.

After a series of longer and longer absences, Bryce simply neglected to come home, one day.

By the time he had found his way to the little mission on Elmore Street, Bryce had lost most of his short term memory, upper logic functions and suffered serious degradation in certain internal organs. His heart, kidneys and liver were operating at levels dangerously below normal. Given sufficient time, he would die from failure of one of these. But, that was not to be. A seriously depleted immune system was even more critical. Bryce Litton would die of cancer.

As Bryce moved about the mission, concentrating his available intellect on his daily chores; sweeping and mopping the dining room floor, he was strangely at peace. He was dully aware that all was not well in his life, that there was a lot of unfinished business, somewhere. But, feelings of unease came and went with no discernible connection to present reality. So, he just shrugged them off. The gnawing pain in his chest was a little worse, each time he noticed it. He was aware of so little. But, he was aware of one thing. He dearly loved the old couple that fed and housed him, and treated him like a human being. Not something to be expected on the mean little streets he sometimes walked. Even when he lapsed into his old life and dragged himself back, usually in an alcoholic stupor, they would treat him with compassion and respect.

Bryce was an orderly man. Some inherent part of his nature moved him to do things in an orderly manner. Even sweeping or mopping, the implement must move in a series of straight lines. This same impulse to orderliness must have moved him to visit a free legal clinic and prepare a will. Duly notarised and filed, he kept a copy with his personal effects. As a fairly constant guest of the mission, Bryce was given the use of a small, metal locker with a padlock, to protect what few valuables he possessed. These lockers, donated by a small Christian school, were really unsuitable for the purpose. But, “free” covers a multitude of sins. They were highly prized by the regulars and were the stuff of dreams for the occasional newcomer, who knew, if they could only find the master key to those padlocks, those lockers would reveal a trove of cash, jewels and maybe the signed confessions of Kennedy’s real assassins.

It was a hot day. Patsy Green was holding down the desk at Homicide. It had been an uneventful week.

“Mistuh?”

He looked up. Saw what was undoubtedly a whore. Small, black, she looked young as his own daughter. Wasn’t bad looking, either. She was nervous. Twisting her purse strap with her hands.

“Sit down. What can I do for you?”

“I….I got’s to tell yuh. I…I shot…Mah main.”

He straightened in his chair.

“Really? And when did this take place?” He thought of Miranda Rights and the free Legal Aid on the first floor. Nah! Better get something on paper. Could always tear it up, later.

“Ah…Shot hi-yum on de street. Las munt.”

“What was his name? What’s your name?”

“Al…Hi-yuz name wer Al. Ah duntno de las name. Mah name id Rosa Alvared.”

“He was your husband?”

“Nah! He mah main. I was he ho…. Look. Ahm not sure whud to do. Ah dint meen to hurt nobody. De gon jus wen off, lak a accident. Yu know?”

“Uh, sure! And this shooting. Where’d it happen?”

“On Elmo street. Near de ol mission.”

“Oh. Okay. That would be Alan Probert.”

Nothing!”, He thought. ,”Another hummer!”

“Look kid, We got twenty people claiming to have shot Al. He wasn’t on a lot of Christmas card lists. I’m afraid you’ll have to come up with something I can use, if you want me to listen to your story.”

“But, Ah did it! Ah shot Al and den ah put de gon in de ribber!”

“Where in the river?”

“Ah dunno. Ah was cryin’ and such. Jus wolked to de ribber and toss it.”

“That ain’t gonna do it, for me, lady. I need something concrete.” He looked at her. She looked funny, like she really believed she had done this thing, like she really wanted someone to believe her. Why did he get all the crackpots?

“Mistuh, Ah shot hilm and you gots to believe me! Ah got save, las week an Ah tol Jesus Ah would confess mah crahm!”

“Well, I can’t help you, if you don’t have the gun. Without it, you’ll have to stand in line with the others. And we aren’t passing out free prison sentences. I’m not even gonna’ file a report on what you’re giving me!”

“But, whut can Ah do? Ahm guilty! Ah di-ud it!”

“Sorry kid. Maybe Jesus just wants you to know you’re forgiven. Anyway, I’m not gonna’ take this anywhere. I’d just get laughed out of the captain’s office. Go home and thank Jesus for saving your soul or whatever and try to forget this whole thing.”

She tried to argue a little more, then gave it up. It was quitting time. Patsy walked her outside.

“Look, Rosa. If you really offed Al, you did the world a favour. He was nothing, slime. He deserved killing. Needed it. Now, I half-way believe you did do it. Something about you strikes me as honest, which is saying something, considering who we are and what we do for a living. I don’t know why, but I’m happy for you. You seem to have a glow of peace about you. Why don’t you consider it this way; you confessed. The system has just not deemed it necessary to prosecute you. I know it’s pretty weak, but it works for me and I’m the guy who has the say-so. Ok?”

“Wail….,”

He thought her face had an expression, like she was checking out a new wig, not confessing to murder.

“Ifn y’all say so, I guess Ah’ll havs t’ take it. But, Ah trahd t’ confay-us. Din’t Ah?”

“That’s right, Rosa. You tried your best. Can’t be blamed if we don’t want to listen, now, can you?”

“Da’s raht. Ah cain’t. But, lemme tail yo sumpin’. Jesus, He said yo wouldn’t

lissen. Ah din’t b’lieve it, but He said so. Ah hu’d hiyum!”

“Well…whatever. Just keep it to yourself and you’ll be okay.”

“Now, y’all lissin t’me! Y’all needs Jesus too. Don’ think, cause yo’ wat, dat cho don’ need Hiyum! He’s all yo do need. Unnastaind?”

“Okay, Rosa, I understand. You just go on home, now.”

“Ah’m ser’us, now. Yo just thin’ ‘bout it. Don’ choo jus’ blo me off, now. Yo got’s to tolk t’ Hiyum! He knows whatchoo wan’ and He knows whatchoo need! Yo jus’ ass Hiyum an’ He’ll he’p yo ‘long.”

“Okay, Rosa, I’ll do that. See you around.”

He dove for his car. He couldn’t understand his discomfort. He’d been to church, often enough. Why was this black whore getting under his skin. It’s not like he didn’t know plenty more than she did, about religion. After all, he’d been an altar boy, for cryin’ out loud!

He headed home, hoping that nothing would make him late, today. That whole thing, yesterday, with the bus had been a real headache. And, when he did get home, he found Donna in tears again. She recovered quickly enough, when she saw him. But, her red eyes and clinging manner had irritated him, all evening. He was afraid she was really losing it.

That night, Bryce Litton expired in his sleep. Uttering a little sigh, like a tired man finding rest, he simply ceased to breath. If angels came to collect his soul, none of the other sleepers in the small room noticed. Some muttered in troubled dreams. One or two woke in the darkness, with the thought of stealing something. But, there didn’t seem to be anything of value and they drifted into restless visions of plenty.

Upstairs, Elmer and Kathleen woke, at the same moment. They sensed each other’s consciousness, rolled toward each other, in the red glow of the bar sign that always found its way in their window. “Hi. Can’t sleep?”

“I don’t know, Hon. Just felt like I needed a little prayer.”

“Okay, What’s on your mind?”

“Oh Elmer! I just don’t know how much longer I can do this! I mean, it’s just so hard! There are times when I just want to run screaming down the street! Like that girl, last month. She was so badly hurt! And we could do almost nothing for her! No one should have to live like that! What’s wrong with this world, that people have to be like this?”

“Now, Hon. You know it’s not so bad. These people need us. Well…they need Jesus! And He wants us here. I’m sure He will send us a replacement, soon. I’ve talked to the board of directors. I got the impression that they would replace us when we asked. I suppose, we just have to wait, until God provides us with better circumstances.”

“Oh! I hope it’s soon! I just want to cry! These poor men! And the women! I wish we could do something! If we had the money, we could set that young doctor up with a clinic. He’s such a nice, godly young man. I know he would spend all his time here, if he could!”

“Well… You’re probably right, about that. But, the churches just don’t have that kind of funds. It would take thousands of dollars, to do it right! I’ve talked with the doctor and the board. It just isn’t going to happen, until God wills it. Why, the board can’t even find the money to help us set up any kind of pension fund. We’ll just have to trust God to provide for our retirement. My Social Security won’t even support dignified starvation!”

“Oh Elmer! Sometimes, I just get so frightened!”

“Now, that’s funny! I’ve seen you walk right up to a bunch of drunken bikers and invite them in to dinner ‘n service! And I’ve seen them follow you like little lambs! And you are afraid that God can’t take care of us?”

“Well…” She chuckled to herself, “It just didn’t seem that bad, at the time.”

“Oh honey! Just relax! We’ve got it made! Our God is bigger than any problem in the universe! Let’s just pray a while and thank Him for all the good He has done us.”

They fell to praying in whispers. As often, when he was feeling good, Elmer prayed something funny and started Kathleen laughing. They prayed some more, then just held each other close in the red dimness. She fell asleep in his arms. He reflected, not without some regret, that they could never quite sleep, all cuddled up. He just couldn’t drift off, not with her so close. Others might find it odd, that a woman of her age could still stir her husband. But, she could, and did. And he rather enjoyed that aspect of their long association. The only thing, that he could not fathom, he thought to himself, lying there in the night, was why such a wonderful woman would want to stay with him. He did not know that the same question, in reverse, often occurred to her. Others would have told them, if asked, that it was obvious that they were as made for each other as any two people had ever been. No one, who knew them well, ever thought of either without the other. The example of their marriage had even encouraged a couple of others to work their own troubles out, instead of throwing in the towel, simply because that peaceful fellowship was shown to be attainable.

Patrick Green lay awake. He thought about his wife, his family, his job. He didn’t know why he was so troubled. He’d seen a lot, in his years on the force. Been down a lot of dark alleys, faced a lot of bad men. But, his concern for his wife was something he was completely unprepared to deal with. As he lay there, looking back over their years of marriage, he thought of their good times and bad times. He heard his youngest son fuss in his sleep. That one had been a surprise. Shock would be more like it. Got him some good-natured ribbing at the station, too. A guy his age! ‘Shoulda’ known better. He smiled. Nice to know he still had what it takes, though! His oldest was working at Burger King, putting himself through community college, doing his “101” classes, as he put it. No getting around it, the kid was smart! Built like Donna’s dad, he was tall, slim with wide shoulders. He could swim like a seal. Already had a scholarship worked out…in tennis! Tennis, for crying out loud! Now, where’d he get that? Pat was secretly proud of his son. he was a good kid, too. Although Jack’s interest in religion troubled him. The kid got absolutely manic, sometimes. Pat had been raised to believe that mom’s took kids to church, while dads slept in. He remembered the first time he’d gone with his dad to the Knights of Columbus, on Saturday night. After that, he wasn’t surprised that his dad couldn’t make it to church the next day! Man! That bunch could drink! Then, he remembered the time they had attended the funeral of two of those guys. They’d driven home drunk and gone in the river. The face of one widow flashed through his mind and he shivered, remembered why he hadn’t gone too far down that road! Death; it raised so many questions for him. That killer, and the pimp, and that whore trying to confess. What did it all mean? And then she tried to preach to him! To him! I mean, he’s a cop. She’s a whore. That don’t work! Whores fear cops. Hate us? Definitely! You don’t preach to people you hate and fear. You fight them, maybe avoid them, not reach out to them! And then, the scene came flooding back. He was in the catechism class. He must have been all of six. Sister Mary Somebody was telling about how Jesus came to earth to save us and how he’d known he would be killed for it. How he had wept for his people, healed them, died for them! And how they’d turned on him, like a pack of dogs and destroyed him and fought against even His memory! Something in his mind divided the world up into “them” and “us”. Then, the oddest thing happened. In his mind, like it was somebody else doing it, the categories slid together, changed into “Him” and “Us”. It felt like cold water flooding over him. Suddenly, he saw. He saw that he was in the same bunch with the pimp, the killer, the whore. He wasn’t anything in the eyes of God. And yet God sent His only son to die for them all! All of “US”! He squirmed with discomfort. Him? He was one of “them”? From somewhere, far away, came a silent confirmation. He began to tremble. How could he be one of “them”? It wasn’t so much that his pride was offended as that he was embarrassed. Mentally, he looked around to see if anyone noticed. Then he felt how foolish that was. He felt like a little kid. Like Poppa was smiling down at him, shaking his head at his kids’ naivete. Well, what was he supposed to do then? Okay! So he wasn’t perfect! So what? What could HE do about it? And he knew. It was there, right in front of him. It had been there, all the time. “Okay,” he thought, “Show me the way. I don’t know what to do! I want to be like you. But, I don’t know how!” There it was. His own admission of guilt. He knew where he stood with God, now. He was guilty!

The words came drifting back. “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.” But, that wasn’t enough! There had to be more! WHAT WAS IT? He thought about Jesus. About how he had talked with people. Like that guy who came to him, at night. “Nick” something. Jesus had told him, ”You must be born again.” Okay! That was it! So…how? “Look, Jesus. I…don’t know how to do this. Can I …Will you…? I…want to be born of God! ….please!”

And then….this peace flowed over him. It seemed to start in his heart and flow out to his extremities. And he was AWARE! He knew who God was! He understood! It was all so clear! He got so excited, he turned to his sleeping wife. He was going to wake her, to tell her all about it. But, no. Let her sleep. He saw her, too. Suddenly, he understood what the problem was. Him! He was his wife’s problem! Now, he saw! The tears, the stress. Yes! Of course! He felt so sorry for her! Well, that was going to change! No more of this. She was going to get first billing with him, from here on out! No woman deserved what she’d been getting and he owed her plenty!

And, suddenly, it struck him. How did he know this? He realized who had told him, who had opened his eyes. Like a blind man receiving his sight, he saw the Saviour and worshipped.

It would be two days before the Heiders would think to open Bryce’s locker, find the will and take it to the legal clinic for disposition. It would be a further week before they were informed that Bryce’s ageing father had died, only a fortnight earlier than his wayward son. Being a man in his eighties, and rather set in his ways, he had neglected to change his will. It would be revealed that the helpless derelict of Elmore street had left Elmer and Kathleen half of his inheritance, the balance going to his family. The Heiders received approximately fifteen million dollars.

***

Mommy was sitting in the grass. She was smiling at him. He loved Mommy! Her dress was white, with blue flowers all over it.

“Danny! Look! See these flowers? Aren’t they pretty?”

He ran over. “What are they?”

“Why, they’re dandelions!”

He looked closer. “They don’t look bad!”

“Oh, they aren’t honey! They’re just little flowers! Are you afraid of them?”

“No! I’m not afraid! I thought dandy lions were big…and mean. Like the ones in Sunday School!”

“You had lions, in Sunday School?”

“You know! The ones who wanted to eat Daniel!”

“Oh, those lions! No. These aren’t like that. These are just yellow flowers!”

“Mommy?” He’d spotted something strange, by the wooden fence.

“Yes?” She smiled at him.

“What are those?” Danny pointed a stubby finger.

“Oh! Those are dandelions that have gone to seed!”

“What’s that?” He stared hard at them.

“Those fuzzy things are dandelion seeds. Look! Pick one and I’ll show you how they work.”

Danny ran over, picked a stem, with exagerrated care. He walked to his mom, holding it aloft, like a warrior’s trophy. “Here ya’ go!”

“Thank you! Now I want you to blow on it.”

“Blow it?” He screwed up his face.

“Yes!”, she nodded, “Just puff at it and watch what happens!”

“Okay! … Whuf-f-f! . . .Wow! Look at that!” The grey parachutes wafted across the yard.

“Yes! Isn’t it wonderful?” An errant breeze caught them and carried them up and away, down the block, out of sight.

“Where are they going?”

“Oh, you never know where they go. Dandelion seeds are like that. They just float on the wind and go where God takes them.”

“Mommy? Why does God do that?”

“Well, Danny…I think it’s because He likes them.”

***