“Close the lid before flushing.”

Unwritten is the assumption, in some households, that you will flush a closed toilet and leave the lid closed upon exit. 

Once I learned the practice, searching for the logic of it followed.

It seems waste matter is aerosolized in the flush process. Invisible drops of raw sewage are deposited on all exposed surfaces.

My, my.

An imposing Anglo man, over six feet to my five foot nothing, sternly taught me the lesson of close the lid before flushing when I demonstrated my lack of knowledge by violating this toileting rule. I’d also left the top up. I never forgot his instruction. He gave an entirely new meaning to the term ‘anal’.

Visiting a girlfriend of recent acquaintance, I saw a sign posted in her bathroom. It read:

Close the lid before flushing.

Leave the lid down when you exit.

Clear instructions without the intimidation. Priceless.

One Day the Lord Knocked

Our house has only one bedroom, so I slept in the living room on a fold-out bed that doubled as my desk and bookshelf when the bed was folded into the cabinet. It was about six in the morning when a knock at the front door roused me from pre-adolescent dreams. I turned over, hoping the cat had knocked something over, or that the sound was some noise from next door. The houses are close enough to nearly share a wall; we’re packed in here like matches in a book. The knock came again.

Fully awake, I asked, “Who is it?”

“The Lord,” came the reply.

I dashed to the back to get Mom. “Mom, the Lord is at the door.”

“Say what?” Mom always woke ready. I think that was the Texas in her.

“The Lord, Mom, is at the front door.”

“Well, why didn’t you let Him in?”

Mom got up, put on her robe, and went to the door. She looked through the window and saw Pluko standing there in her nightgown, hair disheveled, a confused look in her eyes. “Who is it,” she asked. The answer came back, once again, “The Lord.” So, she opened the door.

“Come in. Would you like a cup of coffee,” she asked, always with that Southern hospitality. The Lord smiled and said yes to the coffee. Mom seated Her at the kitchen table and went to fetch a wrap because she thought the Lord might be cold. It had rained the night before and, while the morning was fresh, it was also cold and damp. She returned, dropped the wrap across the Lord’s shoulders, and began to make coffee and biscuits. 

She served the Lord, who gave her a beatific smile in thanks for the comfort, then went to call Pluko’s cousin to let her know where the Lord could be found. 

The Lord sat in our tiny kitchen, slurping coffee from a saucer, sopping a bit of it with Her biscuit. She was contented and calm, happy even, until Her cousin showed up to take Her home. Her face took on the look of a brewing storm and the Lord began to grumble under Her breath about what a hateful soul lived in Her cousin. “Her throat is an open grave,” She muttered.

The Lord was coaxed to the front door and just as She was nearly out, She turned to say something to Mom. She held up her arms as if preparing to offer a benediction and said, “Blessed are the kindhearted. They shall know gratitude.”

With those words of thanks, the Lord turned on Her heel, and was gone.

Glen and Phoebe, Coda

The phone opened to the picture he’d requested of her feet. People had all sorts of fetishes, and she didn’t mind indulging this one of Glen’s. Phoebe was very familiar with the paraphilias, having been schooled through the Kinsey Institute. She searched the phone for any clues that might tell her where Glen had gone and why. She needed details.

There was much too much money for the sale of her father’s house. Glen knew she was struggling financially, but she hadn’t asked him for anything other than a fair price for the house. What was he thinking?

The phone search turned up next to nothing except for a number that was not hers listed under the Dialed Calls directory. It was an international number, to Germany, and she called it straight away. When the German Cancer Clinics answered, she knew what she had to do next.

Mattson was waiting for her when her train arrived in Oklahoma City. Glen had told her  a little about Mattson and their enduring friendship that had begun when they served together in the Navy. If anyone knew the details of Glen’s situation, it would be Mattson. What Phoebe didn’t know was that Glen had confided to Mattson his relationship with her; they both shared an interest in feet, and Glen had mentioned his curiosity about Phoebe’s small feet to Mattson. After that slip, he had told all, even though Phoebe had asked him not to. 

“Miss Williams,” Mattson greeted her, “I trust your journey was not too difficult?”

“No, Mr. Mattson, the trip was very pleasant, quite soothing in fact.”

“Very good. After we collect your bags, I will take you to the cottage and introduce the staff to you.”

“Staff?”

“Yes, Miss. There is just myself and my wife. She’s the cook and housekeeper.  I double as your driver and gardener.”

Phoebe sat stunned. She’d always longed for such a life, and here it was. But what of Glen?

“Mr. Mattson?”

“Just Mattson, Miss, if you please.”

“Mattson, is it far to the cottage?”

“No, Miss. We are about thirty minutes away.”

“What is your wife’s name?”

“Joyce, Miss.”

“If I am to call you Mattson, will you please call me Phoebe?”

“My pleasure, Phoebe.”

They drove the remainder of the short distance in silence, Phoebe wondering if she could get the information she wanted from Mattson and Mattson wondering what she was going to ask. She was everything Glen had told him and more. Direct, clear-eyed, poised. He understood his friend’s affection for this lovely woman. 

The “cottage”, designed by architect Robert Roloff, sat on a little more than four acres of land in a private setting that offered exquisite views of the outdoor living spaces, that included a pool. 

Image

Overwhelmed by the enormity of the gift she’d been given, Phoebe wept tears of gratitude, then turned her teary amber eyes on Mattson and asked him, beseeched him to tell her all he knew of Glen. Mattson happily obliged.

“Did…did his wife go with him?” Phoebe asked.

“No, Miss,” he answered, slipping back into formality. “In fact, Bernard and his wife were divorced about a year ago, shortly after he understood his condition.”

“Do you know where he is exactly, Mattson?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“Would you please make arrangements for me to go be with him?”

“At once, Phoebe, at once.”

Phoebe, Intermezzo

On the Wednesday Phoebe was expecting a call from Glen, she received an air express envelope instead. Inside it were a set of keys, train tickets and itinerary, $500,000 in bearer bonds, an Oklahoma property deed with her name on it, the cell phone that he had purchased to speak exclusively to her, with this note written in Glen’s impeccable left-handed script:

You’re right, Phoe. I have been keeping something from you. You’re too perceptive. I need you to promise not to be stubborn about this. 

As you asked, I sold your dad’s property and invested the money in a property I think is just right for you. Take the train and go see it. My driver will meet you and take you to the cottage. If you like it, it is already yours. If not, you will have to sell it or dispose of it as you see fit. Yours is the last legal transaction I’m handling.

These past months have been the favorite part of my life. No one would believe all we did was talk … and listen to one another. I couldn’t love you more if I wanted to, but I will always love you, that’s certain.

I have to go, Phoe, and I will not be coming back. I’m not going to bother you with the details, but I know you have that wild imagination, so let me try to quiet it by saying I do have a medical problem for which I’m going to seek help. The prognosis is not good, but I know you’d want me to examine every possible angle and to fight. Even so, I don’t expect to return because however things go, I will not be in any shape to come back.

You always made this old man feel young. You made me remember and talk about things, people, places, experiences I hadn’t remembered in years.You talked with me. You listened to me. You gave me back my life, Phoe. Let me do this thing for you now. Don’t be stubborn.

You’ll like living near the river. Crew is big there. I want you go out and row for me. 

Don’t be sad, Phoebe. Just love me like you have, and remember me from time to time. I’m glad your heart overruled your head and you told me how you felt for me. If there is a way to talk to you from where I’m going, I’ll do it. 

Listen for me.

Forever, 

Glen

Glen, Second Movement

Glen had not stopped thinking about Phoebe since, two months ago, she stepped into his office smelling of honey, spice, and soap. Her white dreadlocks cascaded to her waist, a nipped-in bit of a waist. She stood on the smallest feet he had seen on a contemporary woman. He wondered about those feet. Dancers often had horrible feet, feet that looked as if they’d taken a pounding. Glen didn’t believe that was the case with Phoebe’s feet. Too bad the weather didn’t permit peep- or open-toed shoes.

She was very understated, except for her locks and the twinkle of subdued merriment in her amber eyes. She wore a knitted black sheath, delicately patterned with tiny red roses, that hinted at the tight  body underneath. Phoebe was winsome.

Twenty minutes. That was a long as he’d been able to keep her in his office. After she left, he sat for ten minutes breathing in her scent before allowing the next client in. Glen knew he wanted her, but not simply for a night and certainly not undercover. What could he do? His wife was everything Phoebe was not and he was sorrier than ever that he’d bowed to convention and married a woman with whom he no longer had anything in common.

In the oddest moments, Glen found himself contemplating Phoebe. Her name was a mantra for him. He could not help himself. She hadn’t contacted him since the office visit, so he texted her, a thing he never did with clients. When she sent her number, he called immediately, wanting to hear her warm, low, throaty voice. In nervousness, he sounded surly, trying hard to cover his excitement. Now, he had a response to his meditations.

He murmured, all gruffness gone from his voice, “What should we do?”

“We? Do? I’m sure we should do nothing…but talk. This isn’t exactly my proudest moment, falling for a married man I met for a few minutes on business, but something about you…calls me? That is the only way I can express it right now. Perhaps, if you talk with me, I can work out what is happening. That you said “we” let’s me know I’m not in this alone?”

“Yes. I’m in, over my head, I’m sure, but I’m in.”

“Just one thing. I’m in no position to make any demands, but I have a request. Would you keep this just between us?”

Phoebe and Glen, A Love Song, First Movement

Glen, with one “n” because his mother was an economic and practical woman with a fondness for forests, was 75 but looked 50, a trim, neat 50. No puzzle gut on him. He was a swimmer and his body was a testament to the all-over good it does for toning and sculpting a body. Phoebe was 48 and pretty in a way that seemed to distract men to obsession. Petite, a dancer to keep herself in shape, she inspired protectiveness in some men that bordered on abusiveness and endangered her health, through no fault of her own. She was an avowed bachelor and so, was struck by the force of what she felt for Glen when they happened to meet. 

The feeling. How to describe it? A sudden dawning upon? An awareness of being inexplicably drawn to another. Instinct told Phoebe that she could not trust herself alone with this man.

Glen, too, felt or rather sensed something about this sprite of a woman, whom he’d met on a matter of business. She did not offer her hand. She was muslim though not hijabi, and followed the custom of not touching men who were not a member of her immediate family. Phoebe was never more grateful for the teaching for she felt that if she touched Glen, he would know her heart.

Not only was she celibate, Phoebe, on principle, didn’t do married men. Just because she didn’t believe in the institution as currently constructed didn’t mean she didn’t respect folks who chose to do that sort of traditional thing. The institution did offer certain benefits, but they were minimal when compared with freedom.

Glen and his wife offered Phoebe hospitality, which she accepted, briefly, before making her excuses. The business concluded for the moment, Phoebe returned home and put her experience of Glen behind her.

Glen reawakened the fire in her body when he texted her a few weeks later to tell her a development with the business. He had gently teased her about not staying in contact. Phoebe asked Glen to give her a call, and she gave him a private number to her secure line.

He called immediately, sounding gruff, irritated, and impatient.

“Yeah, yeah. What do you want to talk about?”

“I haven’t contacted you because I have the biggest crush on you and I am afraid of myself, afraid of what I feel…for you,” she blurted, almost stunned speechless by his tone.

The silence seemed long.

She could hear him slowly take in a deep breath and evenly release it before saying,”I wasn’t expecting you to say that, but I’m not disappointed.”