Feel Like a Million

     Drugstores built and operated by a neighbor before the mega CVS and Walgreens dominated adjacent corners of busy intersections magically still managed a meager survival in towns with simple names on the outskirts of urban sprawl. Tucked in the corner of brick facades where next door retail shops would come and go from shoe repair shops to ladies wear consignment stores, these drugstores, pharmacies, apothecaries, made do with prescription refills along with an assortment of over the counter remedies, toiletries, canned goods, and menagerie of retail items from manicure kits to children’s toys. At one time, it was expected that stores such as this featured a lunch counter. In the 1940s before the golden arches, a cup of coffee for ten cents and a hamburger created a comfortable spot for customers to wait for their prescriptions to be filled. Most of these faded away beginning in the 1960s as the population favored fast food, fast service, and the death of lunch counters and most independently owned drugstores; the drive through window. Rare is a good word for Mechanicsville Drug Store. Just off  I-295; actually off the Mechanicsville Bypass. That far out of way survival for the small store was even more of a challenge as not many travelers made it a destination for a quick stop off the interstate. Somehow the family continued to offer hot breakfasts for patrons that were comfortable at a lunch counter or small Formica booth. Laminate hard surfaces withstood attacks from spills and cigarette buts long past the installation date when smoking was cool. Most soda fountains had disappeared in the 1970s, so this specific store was a time capsule since the family that owns it bought the business in 1957. 

     Strange how some things last and others fall victim of the times. How, you may ask, does a lunch counter last when just up the road a ways, so they say, the site of Pole Green Presbyterian Church is marked by a grave stone looking historical market that dates the founding in 1748 by Reverend Samuel Davies. The Reverend Davies ministered to slaves and preached a great deal about freedom and liberty. Patrick Henry of ‘Give me liberty or death’ fame attended many of the services led by Davies and was so well received he expanded and became minister to lead seven congregations in five counties.

     Times change and in 1864 the Civil War destroyed the shouts of hallelujah when the church was burned. People burn the damndest things when emotions run wild.

     Reverend Davies did okay. He went on to become the fourth president of Princeton, however, his legacy would be all but forgotten without the Woman’s Auxiliary who created the memorial in Hanover County in 1929.

     Eight generations after the church burning, the sun rises once again above the pines and rolling fields part and parcel of the same landscape that once ran with blood from any number of Civil War memorials from Polegreen Church to Cold Harbour a stones throw east of the marker erected by the ladies.

     Instead of a church, the old men who hung out every morning at the drug store for breakfast, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and non-believers alike have found the dated store cafe a preferred place to meet each morning and discuss world events. On no occasion has anyone brought up Reverend Davies burnt out church. The counter and small booths provide adult day care for some guys who will sit there for hours drinking coffee and talking. Each day as the group would gather, old man Chuck Davies, no relation, not even distant, to the Reverend Davies would enter and hold court over the other men. “C.D., about damn time, how you doing?”

     Chuck Davies did not mind the nickname C.D. as he grew up with the moniker being that he was a junior and the pet name gave clear identification when he and his father were together. Even after the older Chuck Davies passed, the initials C.D. lived on.

    C.D. answered, “Feel like a million … and two.”

     “And two?”

     “Any body can say they feel like a million, but when life is good enough to hand two more, that’s saying something.”

     The younger guy sporting a worn cowboy hat poked back, “Just two? That ain’t so much to brag about.”

     “Hellfire C.D.,” another local piped in, “You wouldn’t know what to do with a million in the first place.”

     “My name, after all is said and done, is C.D. You run on up the street to the windmill bank and ask them what C.D. means.”

     “You been up to that bank?” One of the younger guys in his fifties asked and commented, “That new teller up there is cute as a button.”

      “You’d know about as much to do with that young lady as C.D. knows what to do with a million dollars.”

     “And two,” another adds.

     C.D. explains, “You will learn over time that additional two is everything.”

     The group settled into a quiet moment taking a few slurps of coffee. C.D. looked around noticing the metal clanking of the spatula against a hot grill scrambling eggs, bacon and sausage frying perfumed the air, Loretta, the weathered waitress, was making rounds with a fresh pot of hot black coffee in each hand, one with a green rim, the other orange, the green topped pot mostly drained.

     “Hey, earth to C.D. You were about to shower us with some old fart knowledge,” Cowboy hat said.

     “First piece of advice is to remove that hat in the presence of a lady,” C.D. said as he motioned for a refill from the green pot.

     Loretta smiled, winked, and took a shot at cowboy, “I hear you over hear bragging again about two inches?”

    The guys laughed and applauded Loretta. The hat said back, “You ain’t woman enough for this man.”

     “You can’t even get the name of the song right,” Loretta said, topped off the cup in front of C.D. and turned away.

     “See there young man. You just got your extra two dollars worth for today.”

     “How’s that?”

     “Young Loretta just gave you one more new lesson to add to your education. Everyday can be like that if you live long enough to understand that any increase you get each new day enriches your life. Sometimes two is more than enough. You count up enough days with small daily increases as I have had the great fortune to enjoy, and if you are smart enough to count blessings instead of losses, you too will become a happy old man.”

     “How can you be so positive with all the crap that’s going on?”

     “Like what?”

     “You watch the news?”

     “Only if I have to. Mostly I avoid it like a plague.”

     “Have you seen the riots tearing down statues and burning up places?”

     C.D. sipped his coffee, “Don’t get so worked up.”

     “You’re damned right I’m worked up.”

     C.D. made the observation that a contagious sentiment could rifle through the group and decided to calm the mood, “I have lived long enough to know these things come and go. People burn things for the damndest reasons. Sometimes they can’t even figure out they’re burning the very thing that is on their side. It’s happened over and over. Hundreds of years, most likely.”

Third Time’s a Charm

Morning dew layered a glistening blanket over the fairway leading to the greens where golf cart tracks weaved a path the way tires leave traces in fresh fallen snow. It was an early morning the first day of June; a perfect date on the calendar to pull up memories from summers past. A calling welled in me to join in the fun with the orange colored Bermuda shorts and lime shades of golf shirts to run the course and shoot the shit with guys like me that had run their course in another life before sun and fun in Florida ate the time left. Reality set in and reminded me of the fact that moving dirt and digging holes is an easier task with a shovel instead of a golf club. The idea of male companionship is overrated. My simple mind concerning sports in general seemed to be a strange world. A group of sweaty guys in a locker room speaking of scores and points had very little appeal to me when sipping sixty year old scotch with trophy brides in the clubhouse made more sense. Why talk about boobs with naked guys in a locker room when you could immerse yourself in the vicinity of such abundance? As much common sense as that statement is, there is a story about a time when the effort to master the sticks overshadows veracity of such observations.

In the summer of the year that would be the sunset of one century, the heat in Asheville, North Carolina set the stage for dry fairways with grass that crunched. “I think we have a new one,” my father said to my senior brother as we gathered that early morning to do eighteen in a foursome that included a local friend who was well versed in the language of bogies and eagles. Mike had retired from a very successful career on Wall Street where business trips with investors involved foursomes who wrangled courses on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, followed with dining heavy hitters for deals in the Belvedere of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. For Mike, a round of golf with me was an act of sympathy to endure my relationship with my father and brother as they visited.

They were warned that this outing was only my third attempt at Golf, and being kind they offered how third time’s a charm and warmed up on the putting green coaxing me to do the same. My brother and Mike looked serious and compared notes on their short game. Third time’s a charm. Who were they kidding? Some say that old saying goes back over centuries when lists of three things were considered a kind of good luck charm, even so far as to compare the sentence to the Holy Trinity in Christianity. Anyone who has ever tried golf for the first time may reference God in outbursts that have nothing to do with anything Holy.

Over the course of the month of August in Asheville, the days grow shorter by about an hour a day, nevertheless, the day about to unfold would be known to our foursome as the longest day of golf on record. Asheville’s normal cloud cover peeled back for the event, just as the forecasters predict year in and out that the closer to August 28th, the more the sun beats down and chases humidity away from the valleys and mountain ridges that form the bowl of seven mountains fencing in the city. This was a perfect day for golf; until we began.

The tee toss at the first tee gave my brother first whack; a welcome loss to me and I breathed some relief being saved starting first. My brother is appropriately referred to as my big brother a full five inches taller with his large football frame, he was a true athlete and could do what many say is impossible and knock a ball three hundred yards on a good day. Three of us watched as he positioned carefully to address hid ball leaning slightly to the right. We could feel eyes on us from the clubhouse. Our foursome had not been the first that day to leave tracks in the dew, so early tee timers now gathered for coffee to size up other golfer’s skills. My brother took his time. Those large shoulder pad muscles drew back and his head just barely twisted to lengthen the back swing. My inner voice shouted like a cheerleader for him to just knock the absolute hell out of the tiny ball just the way he flattened lineman after linemen. He had the killer expression etched in his forehead, the downward swing began, then, bang the shot rang out like a rifle echoing along the trough of a fairway girded by forty five degree slopes on either side. The ball took off. It seems my brother had turned his head just a bit too much to power the drive and the rocketed ball propelled about fifty feet to hit the trunk of some big old oak tree that had managed to dodge golfer’s balls over and over. Not this time. The power in the launch drove the ball back in a ricochet as if the tree threw it back and said to try again as the small orb rolled to stop between the size thirteen two tone brown and white golf shoes my brother wore that morning.

Laughter behind the glass of the clubhouse rang out way too loud for any window to muffle.

Mike, the closest to pro on our team, was next. His ball made it to the right up the slope and rolled back down to be swallowed by the trench these mountain types designed as a fairway. My dad was next. Now, to be fair, he only started golf when he had already turned seventy six. His three score and ten made no difference as he broke a hundred within several months. He reared back and slugged out a promising drive down the middle and said, “That’s how it’s done.”

Then, it was my turn. Nothing to report there. The ball got off the tee.

We were anxious to put some distance between our team and the onlookers in the clubhouse expecting more of a show. We did not disappoint.

In our hurry, my brother floored the peddle on the golf cart, only to send our bags flying off the back. My job to fasten the straps failed.

There was more laugher from the faceless mob behind the glass.

They say the days grow shorter in August just as days grow shorter for old men. We obliterated that old saying as over the next seven and a half hours, the mountains beat us over and over for the longest day of golf maybe in history. Mike decided our friendship would require some other bonding that did not include golf. My brother and father looked forward to returning to the flat fairways around Richmond, and I said, “Screw that third time’s a charm crap.”

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My Blue Heaven

Two came together to form my world. Some magical birth derived from the comingling of red and green parents to procreate a brilliant light blue universe. The blue filled my vision left to right, down to up, and that is all there is and all that ever was. My universe. At times shades and values would change in waves. Other times a dark void of blue from some deeper abandoned abyss would float by, but mostly my world existed in crystal clear sparkling shallows. Comfort came to me in every waking moment from the spotless and free peace warmed from some distant light source radiating that beautiful blue spectrum of wavelengths. The blanket of hues and shades delighted me beyond any and all sensations that could ever come from the touch of another body. For me, the light, the warmth, the blue exceeded any satisfaction of any variety of tastes and smells. My light was all I needed. I never knew darkness. My closed eyes brought no black veil down to shut out my world. Why would I ever want to shut out such beauty? But, you may ask, don’t you sleep? Sleeping does not compute in my world. There are times when I hear things, and times when there is only silence. If silence is sleep, then you can say yes I do sleep. How would I know?

Those rare moments of muffled voices bubble up from the abyss out of view are just distractions. I’d choose not to hear them. Voices in some garbled language from unseen spirits not visible in my blue universe require some kind of belief that has escaped my reasoning for some time. I can’t tell you how much time, as to me that concept does nothing to serve me.

One day a dark chasm began to swell and squeeze by blue heaven aside. The shadow grew, and with it faint words grew and with each decibel of loudness more and more meaning began to fill my mind. Stifled voices began to shape thoughts that had never occurred to me. “How sad,” drew my attention. Why would such a foreign comment be made in a world as beautiful as this is? How sad? What could that mean? Another voice commented about my expression changing, “Look. His eyebrows frowned.”

 

Some new strange obscure reality began an assault into my translucent sphere. Why would such a pit of darkness begin to well in me? These spirits, these creatures from the crevasse dared to pull me into some new world that made no sense as words formed sentences that I, for the first time, could begin to understand. They were here to impose their world, their view, their sensitivities casting a shadow over my perfect pristine world.

Then, they left. The hole of dark blue black they came from shrank and my blue orb filled my world again. My beautiful blue heaven once gain warmed me in that comfortable blanket of peace, tranquil, thoughtless, wordless, meaningless but full and ripe with a richer meaning. Words those demos began to utter faded from thought; washed away in soft surf releasing crystals of sand back to the beach it was meant to be; the way of divine design. All was blue and light.

Yet, there was a problem. Words. Two words, to be exact just two syllables that played over and over, “How sad.” Never before in my world had that opine ever manifested; and then one thought became obsessive. Sad about what? Did some other perspective have some superiority to my beautiful blue heaven? Therein, it was decided these voices would forever be known as something from the others. The others. What did they know that had been kept secret from me all these years? The bigger question came to me to wonder why after all this time did vague mumblings begin to take shape in some foreign concept that disrupted the beauty of my world. The others must have agreed on some doctrine that what they had was better than what pleased me. For the first time, there was a need in me to learn more from the others.

Just then that void of darkness once again crept into view. This time the voices muffled in the distance seemed to be mingled with various voices sending sound vibrations up from the pit growing closer and closer. There those words again, “How sad.”

My mind ached for an answer to reveal what that meant. Sad about what? The voices grew clearer as the darkness swallowed my blue paradise. “How old is he now?”

Who did they mean and what does the term old mean anyway? My mind raced for some understanding about old, age, years, was there some measure of time that had been held back behind the light blue veil? There must be something the others know; or more dangerous some thing they believe that had escaped my knowing.

Voice after voice offered more to question as one said, “I pray for the strength for you to get through this.” Another, “God never hands out more than you can handle.”

Wait. Who or what is God? Did the others have some king to rule over them? Had this king never cared enough of me to set forth some rules in my blue heaven? All these new challenges grew larger in the black gorge now filling my view with no prism to reflect the beautiful blue rays that gave me life. Then, one of the others said, “Today he turns forty.”

Forty what? I wondered. Another said, “Forty years. Unbelievable. The thought of him lying there locked in a world of darkness never knowing anything of life.”

The others said my life had been nothing but that of a vegetable for forty years.

They must know more than me. The others said they knew some God; a ruler who knew better. Reality set in and there was darkness. My beautiful dazzling blue heaven was not really my world of plenty. The others said that I had been cursed to living a life without. Then, there was a small spark. Something of a pin sized light. It sparked again, and reproduced itself swelling out the darkness and jumbling the words of the others. Their words, thoughts, ideas, beliefs faded with the darkness that loses space with a new dawn. The light. The refraction of light in the drops of mist that create sunshine and rainbows arched in a newer shade of bright blue.

My world was returning.

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