Morris Graver: Another Knock, Another Door

Morris Graver put his glazy blue eye up to the look-hole at the top of the front door to find Able Dilettante standing and waiting with Blue Poorman and Moxie Keener back some distance on the front walk. He hesitated. What in the world were they doing at his house? He sure as hell didn’t want to talk to them… He didn’t want to talk to anyone. He usually didn’t want to talk to anyone, but especially now Morris shunned the company of fellow human beings like the plague.

Something struck him deep in his heart, his soul, though, giving rise to an unwanted internal conflict. It was like another Morris Graver suddenly ascended inside Morris Graver, demanding that he open the door. This other Morris wanted to open the door … wanted company, desperately wanted and needed companionship, even the camaraderie of three people who detested him. It didn’t make a damn bit of sense … but he opened the door.

“Hi,” Able smiled and breathed a very noticeable sigh of relief. “I’m sure you didn’t expect any of us to show up toady, or any day, for that matter … but we’ve come by because we want to apologize.”

This quite obviously shocked Morris, who was silent for a moment before eking out an, “Apologize?”

“Yes … honestly,” Able hesitated, thinking through and choosing his words as carefully as possible. Morris stood, still stunned, waiting. “The other day … at the Frosty Parlor … umm, I’m afraid we didn’t come across too well. In fact,” he looked back at Moxie and Blue, “we made asses out of ourselves.” Both of his compatriots nodded with Moxie simply adding, “Yep!” Able continued, “So … we’ve come by to ask your forgiveness… That’s not really who and what we are, or … well, maybe I should say, we strive to be better than asses.” He kind of laughed.

“Oh … well, you’re right. I really didn’t expect to see you at my front door … and I sure didn’t expect you to come here to apologize, but … uh … o.k.” Morris nervously ran his right hand through his slightly dark, blonde hair. “Look, maybe I … you know, I was probably a jerk, too. I mean I did barge in on your conversation, so … well, I’m sorry, too, you know? So … no offense taken here,” he smiled and timidly chuckled. “I guess all is well and forgiven.”

Now this was the decisive moment. They were an all-important cross-road. Where from here?

“Well, it would feel kind of stupid for us to just say, ‘Oh, thank you,’ and turn around and walk away,” Able confessed. “I mean, at the very least, I’d like to introduce myself and my two friends… I’m Able Dilettante,” he extended his hand, which Morris hesitatingly shook. “And this is Moxie Keener and Blue Poorman.”

“Blue Poorman?” Morris asked, surprised.

“Well, yes,” Blue answered. “Blue Poorman in all his un-glory.” Everyone, including Morris, laughed an ice-breaking laugh … finally, Able thought. Thank you, God … Thank you!

“You’re the Blue Poorman who sometimes does book reviews … late night, on the radio.” Morris offered.

“Yeah!” Blue was excited now. “Yes, that’s me … and if you’ve heard me, then you’ve just increased the number of my listeners to all of fifteen!” Everyone laughed again at Blue’s humorous self-deprecation. “May I ask, have you enjoyed those programs … well, that is, if you listened more than once. I guess I shouldn’t assume.”

“Oh, no, I’ve listened to at least six or eight of your reviews,” Morris lighted up. “In fact, that’s one of my favorite programs and, for whatever it’s worth, I think your one of the best reviewers they invite on the air.”

“It means a lot! An awful lot,” Blue stepped up onto the porch and extended his hand, which Morris readily took and heartily shook. “It does my aging heart good to know … not to mention my ego, which is jumping for joy right now.” Both Moxie and Able were just standing to the side now, smiling. They were naturally pleased that Morris had opened the front door when Able knocked … Now, though, another more significant door had just opened.

“Well, in fact, I’ve ended up reading three books that you reviewed,” Morris said as he let go of Blue’s hand.

“Which three, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“No, not at all. I’ve read The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto, which I only understood because of your review, and Dietrich Bonheoffer’s classic Cost of Discipleship and Augustine’s Confessions. Although I have to confess, despite your appeal to the magnificence of the Old English, I ended up reading an updated English paraphrase of Confessions. I guess I’m just too stupid to really grasp the King’s English, so to speak.”

“Oh no, no, no,” Blue shook his head. “Hey, that’s quite alright. You know, if you’re not used to reading the King’s English, it can be like a foreign language… In some ways it is, really. So, no, I’m thrilled you grabbed that contemporary paraphrase. Often times, with ancient works especially, beginning with a good, contemporary translation, or paraphrase, can open the way later on to the more beneficially reading of … well, we might say, a stricter and more literal translation.” Blue was comfortably in his element now, and thoroughly enjoying it. Ah, they had struck a common chord! Thank God, Able repeated to himself. Thank you, God.

“Hey, instead of standing here talking in an open door, why don’t you guys come in?” The other Morris Graver had finally won out in the internal struggle Morris was having, and Morris was glad. He desperately wanted them to come in now, and they obliged … very gratefully obliged. Intuitively, each one of them knew they would not discuss the shooting, but this was extremely crucial groundwork, laying the foundation, hopefully, for genuine friendship.

For Moxie’s part, she was beginning to realize the depth and strength of sheer need – the need for communication, for companionship, understanding, friendship … love, authentic love. She could never not be upset at Joy’s being shot, but she could quite possibly understand what Dr. Wiseman and her mother apparently already understood, that is: Even if Morris pulled the trigger, this young and deeply pained, suffering, young man was first and foremost victim; if not of another person, per se, then most certainly victim of his own inner-demon of depression and, quite probably, so much more.

Would this excuse the shooting if, in fact, he actually pulled the trigger – and they didn’t know for certain – Moxie asked herself. No, she concluded, it would not, but it would add the very necessary element of compassionate understanding so essential in this particular case. Hell, even if he didn’t pull the trigger, he still needs understanding … and genuine friendship, Moxie told herself. And it was very true; Morris Graver certainly needed friends, real friends, more than ever in his life … truly good, healthy friendship.

“Please have a seat anywhere,” he gladly offered in an unusually chipper voice, and added almost anxiously, “Can I get you anything to drink?” Maybe not, but he was dreadfully thirsty.


Plans in the Making for Morris Meeting

After Captain Ruff left, with a friendly reminder to Moxie about his dinosaur weed-eater, the conversation continued along a totally different line.

“Well, I for one think it’s time for some of us to pay Morris Graver a cordial and, perhaps, apologetic visit,” Lucent spoke up as she looked first at Moxie, then Able and Blue. “He’s a desperate young man, who desperately needs help…”

“Which means he desperately needs understanding friends,” Sage Wiseman quickly inserted. “And that may be difficult, if not impossible … but we’ve gotta try. God knows, we’ve gotta try … for his sake and possibly others, too.”

Moxie stood up, stretched, then huffed really loud. “That’s a hellava call! Going to make buddy-buddy with the guy who quite possibly gunned down Joy Brighterday, and that after he publicly defended Preacher Sloughheart?”

“Moxie,” Effete finally spoke up. “Believe me when I say I know it’s hard. In fact, yeah, it’s hell, but that’s the point. So many people at Ebenezer are deluded victims, really … especially the young and the hurt and vulnerable. Fen preys on people like that absolutely as much as he can, and I don’t doubt for one moment he’s swooped in on this young man. In fact, I can tell you Morris and his mother had to meet privately with Fen at least once before officially joining the church; that’s just policy. And Fen can zoom in on pain and vulnerability like a hawk, so he probably had Morris in his talons before they were half way through their little get-together.”


“Yeah, wow!” Sage echoed sympathetically. “And what’s more, fiends like Preacher Sloughheart love to have an entourage of young, fit and healthy devotees to run and jump at their command, and try to fulfill their every desire. It’s truly sick.”

“Oh, you’re right about that!” Effete agreed. “Nothing more pumps Fen’s ego than young men and women – say 16 to 24, 25-years-old – following him around like some superstar, or guru, or both… You should see him basque in the glory of it all. And they so urgently want his approval, and all he has to do, really, is throw them crumbs, mere crumbs, and they’re satisfied.”

“Exactly,” Lucent chimed in again as she sat down in the easy chair formerly occupied by Captain Ruff. “And that is, beyond any doubt, Morris Graver. The least we can do … or, I should say, the least the three of you can do is visit him and at least try to … I don’t know, apologize for the misunderstanding. It wouldn’t be deceitful; after all, it was a misunderstanding, and knowing what you all know now, I’m sure you are sorry you had the quarrel with him, even though he started and even though he was in the wrong.”

“Quite right, Lucent,” Blue agreed. “In all honesty, looking back on that unfortunate … clash, I suppose, we were a bit harsh and brash … maybe even somewhat … arrogant, God forgive us!”

“Well, no, God forgive me,” Able responded. “I was the one who was such a damn braggart. Truth be told, at the time I just wanted to humiliate him and, dear God, that’s not me! That’s just not me!”

“And me?” Moxie looked at Able. “I have to stand here and admit that, yeah, I acted just like I always do when someone irritates me and especially when I feel like they’re threatening me. I acted like nothing more than a bitch! All I wanted to do at the time was slice him and dice him and leave him bleeding on the floor … metaphorically speaking, of course.”

Everyone couldn’t help laughing a good, long, side-splitting laugh. That was Moxie Keener, all right, and in a way they loved it even though she needed to mature out of that particular characteristic. Anyway, they all needed a tension-breaker, and she sure as hell provided one … as Moxie often did.

“Back to a more serious note, I very much agree with Sage. Morris, however insufferable he may seem at first, desperately needs friends,” Blue Poorman spoke in a somber tone. “I believe it was Pearl Buck who said, ‘The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.’”

“Ah, yes, as Quintus Ennius said so simply but profoundly, ‘Life is nothing without friendship,’” Sage happily added. “Too true, too true. And so, it’s a matter of planning now – that is, when to go and what to say. And should all three of you go, or just a representative one?”

“Good question,” Able answered. “After all, he might feel intimidated if all three of us showed up.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Moxie questioned. “If you actually went up to the door and knocked, or rang the doorbell, Blue and I could stand back some distance so as not to be imposing. And I think it would be good for you to speak first; you’re the one who kind of toned things down at the end and tried to bring some sense of peace out of the disharmony… I think you felt sorry for him.”

“Oh, I did. Believe me, I did, and I feel far more sympathy for him now, of course. In fact, I’m ready to do this today; after all, it’s really not too late. Evening service hasn’t started at Ebenezer, and he’s likely to be at home … I think. And, yeah, I’ll be glad to go to the door and explain why we’re there. Of course, something tells me he won’t respond well, but like Dr. Wiseman said, we’ve gotta try!”

“So what will you say,” Lucent asked. “It might be good to kind of have an idea … maybe even rehearse it a bit, especially with Sage here. This is important, so your first approach has to be right.”

“Yeah, I know,” Able looked down at the floor, considering what he might say. “I guess I’d just start out right off the bat and say something like, ‘Hey … I know you didn’t expect any of us at your front door, but we’ve come to apologize. That day in the Frosty Parlor, we were … well, you know, impolite and undignified, to say the least. You don’t know us, but honestly we’re not ordinarily like that, so we’ve come to ask your forgiveness and try to make amends somehow.’”

“Well, that certainly sounds good,” Wiseman evaluated his words. “It’s a straight-line approach, and in this situation that probably is best, but just in case he asks, what kind of amends could you make? It might be best to leave off that last bit and simply ask his forgiveness. See how that goes, and be prepared for him to accept your apology. What I mean is, if he does, then what? Do you just say ‘thank you, we really appreciate it,’ then turn and walk away? Or do you, maybe … I don’t know, try to engage him in some small talk … you know, pleasantries?”

“Hmmm,” Blue thought about Sage’s suggestion. “We certainly don’t want to try too much too soon. That could be coming off too strongly. If he does accept our apology, and God knows I hope he does, then simply exchanging some pleasantries would probably be the way to go. Perhaps something like, ‘Say, how long have you lived here?’ or throw some very light humor in, like, ‘Since we met at the Frosty Parlor, how do you like the place? We go there pretty often because it’s one of the few meeting places in Splinterbit … unless you want to spend a whole lot of time cooped up in the college or city library.’”

Moxie smiled. “I think if he accepts our apology, there’ll be plenty of options for small talk. If there’s a car parked in the driveway, I could easily ask, ‘Is that your car?’ and ‘That’s a 2005 Ford Malibu LS Sedan with a V6, isn’t it?’”

“O.k. o.k. We know you’re the master mechanic and automotive guru here!” Able placed his hands on his hips and wagged his head, while Lucent and Sage stifled their sniggers. “If he wants to talk cars, trucks, races and whatnot, we’ll let you have him all to yourself, Ms. Evel Knievel Keener!”

“No need to get testy, sweetheart. I was only adding examples of small talk,” Moxie’s grin was like the Cheshire cat of Alice in Wonderland. “I love you, Able Dilettante.” She squeezed him from the side.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah … in all my automotive ignorance, too, right?”

“Why, of course! I would never let a little thing like not knowing how to change the oil in your car get in the way of our deeply romantic commitment to one another!” She pecked him on the cheek and then returned to her Cheshire cat grin. Now the other three couldn’t help but laughing out loud.

“O.k. guys, if we’re going to give this a go today, we’d better be off,” Blue summoned. “Well … we’d better be off and praying the whole way… You know, none of us really knows where this could ultimately lead.”

“Yes … I know,” Dr. Wiseman responded quite seriously. “That, my dear Blue, is also part of the reason you’re going.”

Down … And Another Teardrop Fell to the Floor

Blue and red kept swirling round and round, splashing over the front yard, up the side of the house, through the window, bombarding eyes glued to the scene. It hurt, but he couldn’t move. He was numb all over, and he hurt all over. Strange. Mortifying. Reality and unreality; belief and beyond belief clashed and twirled around with the lights in his mind, and none of it made any sense, but none of it was complicated, but he didn’t understand. Time froze … like his heart, his soul, his body. And another teardrop fell to the floor.

Images kept racing through his mind. Mostly good images, fun images, beautiful images, but they all made him sick. Everything turned ugly in the flash of the second she fell… He still kept hearing the sounds … the cheery “hello,” his brother’s feet running down the hall, the laughter, his own breathing and the beat of his heart, the trees dancing in the wind … the loud crack and short scream… She fell… She fell face forward, to the ground. Another teardrop fell to the floor.

Rue had never been more terrified in his life. Rue had never seen more lights at night in his life, or at least that’s the way it felt. Rue had never been to a carnival; maybe a carnival had more lights … but this was no carnival. There were lights – colored lights, two colors, red and blue – and there were rides, plenty of people, plenty of activity … but no fun, no laughter, no amusement, no entertainment. No, it was not a carnival… He felt cold, and he was sweating. And another teardrop fell to the floor.

Rue had been scared before. Rue had lived his life in fear. This was different somehow. He was numb; his blood ran cold; his clothes were drenched from sweat; he was crying … slowly, painfully. Everything he had hoped for since his mother had taken them out of his father’s house – his father’s insane and abusive house – had slipped away, like fine china from the hand, and lay shattered where she had fallen. One bullet in the back had taken it all away. One bullet in the back had rocked his world to the core. One bullet in the back had frozen time.

He’d had an awesome day yesterday. He’d had a great night’s sleep. He’d had an excellent day at school, his new school. Rue and his brother, Bane, had played for a couple of hours that afternoon. They’d hardly ever had an opportunity to… There was a light knock on his bedroom door. The door slowly opened and the voice floated serenely through the air, so peaceful, so reassuring, in just five words. It could have been the voice of an angel … in just five words.

“Hey, how are you doing?” Moxie carefully stepped into the room. She probably knew Bane and Rue as well as any older sister knows her little brothers. Being an only child, Moxie had claimed them as her siblings after about the third or fourth time watching them. But she was in totally unfamiliar territory now; besides which, she felt like she was about to have a nervous breakdown. Moxie couldn’t believe what had happened… She still didn’t know if she believed it. Everything seemed so surreal, like she’d stepped into the Twilight Zone.

“Able’s with Bane in the living room…” Her throat suddenly caught. Living? A living room and a dying person? No. Moxie knew she had to reign in her thoughts. “… in the other room. You wanna come in, or would you just like to stay back here?” It was a lame, dim-witted question really. He would want to be alone and with people; in a larger, well-lighted room and a smaller, darker room; to talk and freely cry, and be quiet and hold back the tears … all of this and more, and all at the same time, and so how would he answer? How would a little boy even know how to answer right now?

“I don’t know,” Rue answered barely above a whisper. “Can you hold me?” The question smacked Moxie so abruptly, she almost lost her footing… Not that she hadn’t held the boys before … kind of, sort of. Moxie certainly didn’t mind. Of course, she didn’t mind; in fact, she realized she wanted to, now that Rue had asked. Holding him would be just as comforting for her as it would be for Rue. Able had held her earlier. He’d held her tightly. She’d cried. He had cried, too. Right now, though, Moxie wanted to pull one of her little brothers onto her lap, wrap her arms around him, rock him – there was no rocking chair, though – and comfort and maybe even cry with him.

As soon as he was nestled in Moxie’s lap with her arms tightly around him, his head resting on her shoulder, he noticed what was gone… No more lights. No more red and blue coloring the yard, the side of the house, the window. No more uniformed men and women… They were gone, just like she was gone. Rue was glad they were gone; he was heartbroken that she was gone … and scared. And even Moxie could not make the fear go away. She had fallen that night. Someone had pulled the trigger and she had fallen.

Joy Brighterday had fallen.

And another teardrop fell to the floor.


Moxie’s Midnight Memories, Part II

“When I married your father, though, I gladly took his last name. No, not because it was expected or traditional; it was because I genuinely loved him, through and through, no question. I was happy to join my life to his and give up an extremely important part of my identity in uniting myself to him. And believe me, this was not something at all whimsical on my part. I gave it all a great deal of consideration.”

They were in the living room, with Moxie curled up in one corner of the davenport and her mother seated in the other. They’d been talking about her relationship with Able, ideas and plans for their possible marriage, and what Moxie considered really important in making that kind of lifelong commitment. Her mother decided to shift gears somewhat abruptly, and for good reason.

“Your father was handsome and charming, and he didn’t drink or use drugs or even any form of tobacco. Not that he was strict and rigid, by any means. He was just … well, he seemed to be a good, down-to-earth, likeable fella, you know? He was not abusive either, like my father. Unfortunately, as I discovered of course, he lacked some very necessary qualities, such as: sense and sensibility, to borrow from Jane Austin, and consistency, as well as an appreciation for responsibility. His tank ran empty on self-giving love, dependability, and of course, commitment.”

Lucent paused for a moment. The silence was heavy with emotion she very rarely displayed. Tears started welling up in her eyes. “It hurt. It hurt like hell… Yeah, by the time he left, I was ready for him to go … but it still hurt like hell… I didn’t want my marriage to turn out the way it did … not for a minute.” She lowered her eyes. “I didn’t want that for me or you.” Lucent looked Moxie level in the eyes again. “But it did turn out that way, and so I did have to be strong and determined and confident, and, thank God, I have been … and I was damn sure my baby girl would be, too… I don’t regret that at all, but…”

As Moxie stared up from her bed at the ceiling now, hands behind her head, body very still, she felt the same melancholic discomfort she had felt that day. She was not at all frightened or angry or irritated. She wondered if she had even been shocked. Maybe … probably somewhat surprised, but not really shocked. No, she’d been sad and she was still sad for her mother; nevertheless, she was grateful for the conversation, too. Well, if you could rightly call it a conversation; her mother shared a great deal and Moxie listened … very intently.

“Well, Moxie, independence is fine enough, as I’ve always said, but better yet is loving, healthy interdependence.”

Moxie remembered chuckling at the time. “Now you’re sounding like Reverend Brighterday.”

“Yeah,” Lucent smiled. “Probably so, since I learned this valuable lesson from her.” She winked at Moxie. “Two or three times, at least, I’ve heard her say – and you have too, of course – that ‘we live in a society of radical individualism, which is a radical distortion of what God intended. Certainly, God did not intend codependency; that’s also a distortion. However, God did intend communities of interdependence, the heart of which are families, as an iconic reflection of the divine community. As no man is an island unto himself, neither is God in holy tri-unity.’”

“Wow! You’ve got that down pat!” Moxie exclaimed.

“Well, my dear, it’s just that important. I never wanted to be a single mother. You know,” Lucent couldn’t help a slight chortle, “it’s not like every girl’s dream, right?” Moxie smiled and laughed a little, too. No, it certainly wasn’t every girl’s dream. “And it wasn’t mine, either… You were and are the most precious blessing I’ve ever received in my life, Moxie, but … it can get mighty damn cold and lonely in bed at night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hugged my pillow imaging – or trying to, anyway – that it was my companion, my soul mate, whoever that might be… Most of those nights I ended up falling asleep with wet cheeks and a damp pillow.”

Moxie turned onto her side. It was one o’clock in the morning now, but she still wasn’t particularly sleepy … or she didn’t think she was until she stifled a yawn. Suddenly she thought about how comfortable her bed was … and her room, and her home, and her neighborhood … all made possible by her mom. She never really knew how painfully difficult and costly it had been for her mother to provide all of this, and so much more, until that day when her mom threw her heart and soul wide open. It was, of course, the right time; in fact, the perfect time. Moxie was an adult in an adult relationship with an attractive, affection, intelligent and talented young man. They were seriously considering marriage. Yes, it was exactly the right time.

“Moxie, I couldn’t be happier for you … you and Able. And keeping your last name certainly doesn’t bother me; in fact, it makes me proud to know that you’re so proud of your name, your family name. That’s important, and I know it’s not traditional for the man to take on the woman’s last name but, hey, all traditions had a beginning some time and many traditions have had an ending, too. So if Able is growing more comfortable with the idea, then I don’t imagine it’ll be any problem. Besides, with the really tough decisions Able’s had to make, and with his family practically disowning him…”

“I think they have disowned him, completely,” Moxie shot in. “So far as I can tell, it’s been a decidedly clean break on their part.”

“Well, o.k., then that’s even more reason why Able might eventually be not only comfortable with assuming our family name but even pleased with it; he may very well want a fresh identity, so to speak. O.k. All well and good, but…” her mother switched to teacher/lecture mode now, “when you talk about separate bank accounts, automobiles in each of your names only, separate churches, if so desired, or no church at all for one or both of you…” Lucent shook her head. “And even being adamant about each of you choosing your own clothing, dividing the grocery list … heaven’s Moxie. Yes, you’re talking about some kind of relationship, but you’re not talking about marriage. Even if you have a church wedding and get the paper license, you’re still not talking about marriage, and you won’t really be in marriage.”

Her mother’s point had sort of stunned Moxie at the time, but on the other hand she’d already felt like she was being too obdurate and even silly … so she offered no response. Her mother was telling her what she needed to hear, like always.

“Moxie, marriage is very serious business, and I know you know that, but it’s also dangerous. And it’s dangerous because it is so serious; in fact, sacred. In marriage – genuine marriage – you are binding yourself to another flesh-and-blood human being and, in a very real sense, becoming one life. Of course, you still retain your unique self; both of you do, but come down to it, you share far more in common than not … in an authentically loving, strong and healthy marriage. Anything less is … well, maybe kind of a pseudo-marriage. You know what I mean? It may look like the real thing for awhile and sound like it, feel like it, smell like it … but it’s bogus. Fake. Fraudulent. And eventually you find that out, and then the game’s over. I know, and like I said before from my own experience, even if you’re ready for it to end, it’ll still hurt like hell.”

“You have to ask yourself more than, ‘Do I really love Able? How much, how deeply do I love him? Do I love him enough to want to spend the rest of my life with him?’ Those are all important questions, very important, but there’s another one that’s equally important, if not more so, and that is, ‘Do I trust Able? How much, how deeply do I trust him? How far does my trust go, and how long will it last?’” Her mother intensified her gaze, which let Moxie know she was going up to another level of seriousness … something she didn’t think possible at the time. “Where there is no trust, there is no marriage. Where there is trust, there is vulnerability. That’s the hell of it, really. You can’t have marriage without love and trust, and trust means vulnerability, and so marriage means making yourself vulnerable to the other person.”

“There’s a verse in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans where he tells his readers to ‘offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God.’ In the sanctity of true marriage, you’re really doing something just like that … both of you. Both of you have to have, and freely offer, what your father lacked, and could not offer; that is: sense and sensibility, consistency, dependability, commitment, honor and integrity, and above all self-giving love. All of this – these golden virtues – will naturally be tightly interwoven with the beautiful cloth of trust to make the even more beautiful tapestry of marriage.”

“So, no separate bank accounts and cars; no dividing up the furniture into mine and yours, and nix the equal but separate grocery shopping.” Moxie offered rather pathetically. “You’re saying it’s not ‘mine and yours,’ but ‘ours.’”

“Well, Mox, if you start out by separating everything, then you’re not really planning a marriage; you’re preparing for a divorce.” That hit good and hard, straight to the heart. “So, yes, I’m saying it’s not ‘mine and yours,’ but ‘ours.’ But Moxie, I’m saying so much more, too. Oh my … You’re very intelligent, sharp; you’re very discerning. I know you understand what I’ve said, Moxie. Marriage is like the cross, and you and Able are the cross-beam that should be, must be firmly nailed to and perfectly balanced upon the larger vertical beam. The larger vertical beam is everything I’ve been talking about in an authentically good, strong, healthy marriage. This is something you’ve got to think through, something about which you even need to pray, Mox.”

And that night she did just that; she prayed. She hadn’t prayed since, but that night, for the first time in a long while, she actually got down on her knees by her bed and prayed… After stifling another yawn, Moxie decided it was time to pray again.

Moxie’s Midnight Memories

MoxieSS3aOne night, when Lucent was 14-years-old, her despicable father returned, drunk of course, and her mom let him in the house … again, even though she had three brothers living nearby who’d have gladly beat the man to a pulp. Within 10 to 15 minutes he was already yelling and starting to hit her mother. He was extremely intoxicated, Lucent was very athletic and strong for teenage girl anyway, and she’d had enough, so she literally side tackled him, knocking him down. He hit his head, good and hard, on the floor and one of the kitchen cabinet doors. He was stunned, to say the least, so she immediately jumped on him and started double-barrel pounding him until her mother jerked her off.

Her mom began screaming at her to leave him alone, calling her all kinds of vile names, and then told her “just leave … get out of here!” Well, Lucent did exactly what her mother told her; she packed a haversack of basic belongings and headed two miles down the road to the uncle who lived the furthest away from her mother. Her Uncle Ben Keener took one look at her standing on his front porch and said, “Come on in, Lucent. This is your home now.” She never had anything to do with her mother again. Lucent didn’t want her father’s name, of course, and she thought she was actually more of a genuine Keener anyway. Consequently, she changed her last name as soon as she could do so legally. She officially became Lucent Probity Keener.

At 18-years-old, she married an affable, handsome young man, who gave Lucent one child the same year, then left a bit over two years later never to be seen or heard from again. To tell the truth, though, she really didn’t want to find him. She was bound and determined that she and her little Moxie would make it just fine without some pathetic, fastidious man in the way anyhow. Not that she felt that way about men in general. Oh no! Nothing could be further from the truth, because she loved and respected her uncles dearly. No, it was her run-away husband who was pathetic and fastidious. Anyway, she changed her last name back to Keener and, due to extenuating circumstances, the court allowed her to change Moxie’s last name to Keener as well.

Lying on the twin bed in her room at home, Moxie reviewed her venerable heritage and just how much it made her who she was and would become … and she was proud. Rightly so, she thought, but Able’s having to begin another heritage for himself now, just like my mom so many years ago. Tough, but exciting, and I get to be part of it, just like I’ve been part of my mom’s. Moxie smiled. She loved her mother more than any woman in the world, and practically revered her.

For Moxie it all began in the teeny-tiny town of Green Twig, located about 20 miles south of Splinterbit, which was just fine. After all, she spent an awful lot of time with her great uncles and cousins repairing small engines when she was growing up … well, at least her first ten years. They called her their “little grease monkey,” and this was her start on the road to her own little business in small engine repair. At age ten, they moved to Grand Oak, where Lucent finished her Master of Science in Nursing at Grand Oak University and Hospital to become a nurse practitioner. Moxie was especially proud of this achievement. Her mother never sat down and quit, never gave up or gave in; she just kept pushing up and onward.

Moxie looked around her room. Russet brown walls, deep blue ceramic table lamp, small oak-wood desk with an old computer and newer laptop off to the side; two five-shelf book cases, with one very dark, rustic gold shelf overtop of the desk. Her bedroom was bordered in trim of a darker brown background than the walls, and overlaid with perfectly dimensioned swirls of wine red, hunter green, ocean blue, and dark yellow. Somehow the room seemed to magically blend together into something mysteriously attractive, even fantastical. Colorful but nebulous art on three of the walls added to the mystique. Appropriate, she mused and quietly chuckled. Our life story together so far could be titled ‘Mystique: The Incredible Story of Lucent Probity Keener and Her Wily Daughter.’

Lucent had already earned an Associates Degree in Nursing and passed certification at age 20, then went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing by age 24, despite her persnickety, hard-to-please, irresolute husband. This was astounding enough, really, given the difficulty of making the trek to Splinterbit College day in and day out, while working at the little clinic in Green Twig and raising a daughter (with the much appreciated and necessary help of aunts and uncles, of course), but deciding to pursue a career as nurse practitioner was … well, almost beyond belief. But Lucent did it, and with degree in hand and certification achieved, they moved 30 miles southwest of Grand Oak to Splinterbit, where she began work at the Hart Community Clinic.

Moxie glanced at her bookshelves. The titles were evidence of her mother’s passion for very substantive, well-rounded learning. Hard Times, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky; The Gospel in Brief and A Confession by Leo Tolstoy; various “How-To” mechanic books and, of course, a couple of good dictionaries, including the magnificent Oxford English Dictionary. The shelves also sported A Quick History of Philosophy, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Third Revised Edition, and A New History of Anthropology by Henrika Kuklick. Moxie smiled. None of it was decorative dressing for the sake of her room’s appearance; besides, how many girls would really stomach having this kind of personal library anyway? How many boys, for that matter?

No, like mother, like daughter. Moxie Keener grew up under the tutelage of a voracious reader and became one herself. This included the holy Scriptures of Christianity, too. She spied her three well-used translations: The New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), The Revised English Bible w/Deuterocanonical Books, and The Good New Translation (Catholic Edition). Moxie also owned The Inclusive Language Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, but she really thought calling it a “translation” was a bit of a stretch, and the word choices throughout often felt forced. I’m all for egalitarianism, and I’m sure as hell an independent-type woman – just like my mother – but that one is just utterly disappointing because it’s so downright silly!

Moxie laughed out loud then and quickly turned over into her pillow to stifle the sound; she didn’t want to wake her mom at midnight. Thinking about egalitarianism and the place of women in contemporary society, though, brought to mind a recent confrontation Lucent had with a rather dimwitted, legalistic, misogynistic religionist. They were actually in the grocery store when she and her mother rounded the corner and happened upon a conversation this man was having with another man, presumably more intelligent and not of the same mindset. She heard the fundamentalist bemoan the “terrible state of society,” in which “men are no longer men, and women are doing men’s work instead of being obedient to God’s Word in keeping their place.”

Lucent couldn’t help it, really; she could have just passed him by without a word, but it was beyond her capability to remain silent. The fish was already on the hook! Why not go ahead and reel him in and flay him? Moxie mused with her face still buried in the pillow while she tried to stop what had now devolved into pure giggles. “Well, then, I suppose if you’re in an automobile accident and I’m the first one on the scene, you’ll want me to leave you alone, even though I’m a trained and certified nurse practitioner with eight years experience under my belt … even though I might very well be able to save your life? Because I’m just a woman, of course, and I should ‘keep my place,’ of course, and we should wait together until some qualified man arrives.”

The misogynistic religionist looked dumfounded. Maybe he’d never had a woman talk back to him? The giggles ramped up a notch and Moxie’s sides began to hurt. “Or maybe, just maybe, it’d be o.k. if I called 9-1-1 … unless women shouldn’t use phones, of course,” her mother had continued. “Hell, maybe I shouldn’t even be driving a damn car, for that matter! I wonder, is that what you’d tell me with your last dying gasps? Something like, ‘You’re just a woman! What are you doing behind the wheel of a car? Where’s your husband?’ And me there, with eight years practical, hands-on experience – with an awesome reputation, too, by the way – just standing there, doing nothing to save your wretched life, just because I’m a woman and it’s not my place.”

It wasn’t a long confrontation, really. In fact, the man just stood there looking like he’d just bombed the back of his pants. The other man, with his arms crossed and smiling, actually offered the only reply. “Point, set, match!” were the three words he spoke before turning around slowly and simply walking away. Moxie’s mother took this as her queue and continued down the aisle without looking back. Lucent was a professing, non-sectarian Christian, but she was also a healthy and athletic, fiercely independent woman, who was a strong advocate of education, the practical virtues, and common sense reasoning.

In fact, in her mind, the two went hand in hand. If the Christian faith meant redemption, then redemption meant liberation from oppression and marginalization, disease and maladies of mind and body, ignorance and down-right stupidity. In this sense, Lucent was a very “earthy” type Christian; eternity could wait, life now was to be lived now. Goes an awful long way in explaining why my super mom never slows down, Moxie mused. I wonder how many more degrees are in store for her? She’s just nailed down her Masters in Social Work so she can offer more and do more as a nurse practitioner. Bully for her! Moxie started giggling again, and so it was face into the pillow again.

This all sparked another memory, one of a conversation she and her mother had about her relationship with Able … all in all, good but somewhat uncomfortable for Moxie, which was unusual where her mom was concerned.

The Frosty Parlor Parley

“Instead of the ring, how about court? And instead of the bell, how about the gavel?” the stranger replied. “Public defamation of character can get you into a lot of trouble.”

“Let me see,” Moxie’s voice was cold as ice, her eyes still locked in on the man, “defamation is the same as slander and means, ‘to harm or ruin the good reputation of someone,’ so … umm,” Moxie put her right forefinger up to the side of her lips and looked up toward the ceiling, mocking serious consideration. “Hmmm … I don’t think I’m really in any danger of being indicted on that charge, especially considering the man’s done a marvelous job of ruining his own reputation for years now.”

“Hence my earlier description of him as ‘infamous,’” Blue chimed in, “which, of course, means ‘well-known for bad character, qualities, and/or deeds.’”

“Now, of course, several people could haul Sloughheart’s fat ass into court on charges of slander, or public defamation.” Moxie very quickly followed Blue.

The very air seemed to be electrified now. All eyes and ears in the Frosty Parlor were trained in on this suddenly very lively debate.

“What are you? Walking dictionaries?” the stranger asked while running a hand through his short, dirty-blonde hair. He was slender, pale-skinned with blue eyes, and appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s. “Besides, opinions are a dime-a-dozen; they don’t justify maliciously attacking a person’s very character publicly.”

“First, about being ‘walking dictionaries,’” Able somewhat nervously took his turn, but with a confident sounding voice that did a fine job hiding his discomfort, “my friend here,” he motioned toward Blue, “is a well-established essayist, speaker, musician, and lyricist, with an excellent education that includes two Master degrees, one in Liberal Arts and one in one in Research, as well as a PhD in Religious Studies. My very beautiful but dangerously fierce companion, whom you are now quite unfortunately facing,” Able motioned toward Moxie, “graduated from Splinterbit High School summa cum laude, and is now a 4.0 sophomore at the college, where she is majoring in anthropology with a double minor in psychology and sociology. She is also quite an expert motor cycle and small engine mechanic, as well as a black belt in judo.” He couldn’t help but wink at the man.

“As for yours truly, I’ll make no attempt to brag, but I did graduate with distinction from Sloughheart’s church high school,” which seemed to shock the stranger, although a few in the Frosty Parlor remembered him quite well. “I am an artist, who has sold a few of his paintings and sketches, and I have been retained by the Splinterbit Journal for sketches, as well as by my friend here for the illustrations in his forthcoming book. I’m also a 4.0 sophomore at the college, where I am majoring in creative art with a double minor in musicology and, thanks to these two, philosophy. So,” Able slapped his hands, palms down, on the table, leaned back, and cocked his head ever-so slightly with a barely noticeable grin, “I don’t know about ‘walking dictionaries,’ but you’re damn sure not talking to a bunch of ignoramuses.”

This drew some light applause from around the room, with a couple or “whoa-ho’s” and “amen’s,” which surprised Able and Moxie, Blue, and the stranger, who now looked decidedly less confident than when he first broke into a conversation he should probably have left well enough alone.

“As for your bit about opinions being ‘a dime-a-dozen,’ I couldn’t agree more; however, much to the astonishment and dismay of our current culture, I’m sure, there really is such a thing as facts and truth. One really can, if he or she has the wherewithal and is very careful, reasonably assess some situation or person or group, and from that come to an intelligent, valid conclusion.” The discomfort Able had felt at first was completely gone now; point in fact, he was actually enjoying himself.

“And so, as far as ‘maliciously attacking’ this man is concerned,” Moxie jumped back in, “I don’t suppose you would care to calmly, objectively review what we know of his character?”

“Or lack thereof,” Blue added.

“And what do you really know about his character?” the stranger laughed what he intended to be a short, derisive laugh, but the slightly high pitch and faint quiver gave him away (and Moxie now smelled blood.) “And how objective could you be, and who would know? Who would, or even could, impartially judge?”

“You’re not talking to three individuals who know nothing about Fen Sloughheart,” Moxie smiled ominously. “In fact, just how much we do know might surprise you. You were going to haul us into court on charges of public defamation of character, but we have not said anything to defame his character. Yes, this is something I believe we can carefully and reasonably prove, and something someone, or some group of folks, really can impartially judge. At any rate, it’s one way or the other, for sure; either impartial judgment is possible or not, and this includes the courtroom.” Several heads around the room nodded in agreement. “But I tell you what; I’ll make a huge, huge concession here. Impartial or not, how about you be the judge?” This was unexpected, evidenced by the expression on Blue and Able’s faces … and a few others in the Frosty Parlor.


“Yes, you,” Moxie replied seriously. “If you truly believe we have slandered poor Fen Sloughheart, then simply allow us to make our case, as it were, and you pass judgment. One condition, though: whatever your judgment, you must give your reasons for your conclusion. So … how about it?”

“Yes. As we are taught by the Hebrew prophet, Zechariah, let us ‘speak the truth to one another and render here in our assembly judgments that are true and make for peace,’” Blue eloquently added.

“No, I’m afraid not,” the stranger replied. “I’m certainly not going to get backed into that corner, and I’m quite positive I don’t want to sit here and listen to your long list of reasons why you don’t personally like the man. That’s right; despite however rational and logical you might make it sound, it would still be personal, period!” The man was getting noticeably upset. “Nothing more than your personal vendetta … either because you don’t like his theology and teaching, or his perspective on life and the world in general, or maybe his church or school, or even the way he looks and sounds…”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, my friend,” Able held up his hand.

“I’m not your friend,” the stranger replied tersely.

“O.k. o.k.,” Able chose an accepting, friendly tone of voice, “but despite our quibble here, we don’t have to be enemies. And if you don’t want to take Moxie up on her offer – even though we would be succinct and to-the-point in our remarks – that’s perfectly fine, but let me ask you just one question, if I may.”

“No,” the man retorted. “I think I’ve had enough of this…”

“Hey!” Moxie shot in like a hornet. “You’re the one who broke into our conversation! You’re the one who threatened us with court. Now you think you’re…” Moxie felt Able gently grab her hand and just barely tug. She got the meaning, though she didn’t like him suddenly being nice to this appalling intruder.

Blue Poorman, however, knew it was the better strategy; that is, to move away from so much negativity and, worse, from having to almost grossly elaborate on and publicly defend all that negativity. Even better, Able was now assuming a non-threatening, even friendly tone while asking permission to pose simply one question, which kept the stranger on the defensive without any of them running the risk of damaging their own reputations. Blue was also very well aware that all of this was registering with the Frosty Parlor crowd.

“Only one,” Able continued, “and it really has to do with what we were talking about anyway, when you … umm, abruptly entered our conversation. And I give you my word, none of us will offer any rebuttal to your answer. I am really and truly curious … do you believe the Rev. Fen Sloughheart lives the Beauty we were talking about, or, as Moxie put it so well, that Beauty lives in and through him?”

There was silence.

Beauty, Fen and Frosty Parlor Ponderings

“Wicoffeeicecreamth that introduction, then, I’ll just jump right in,” Moxie said with an impish grin.

“By all means,” Blue Poorman responded, making a faux bow and wave of the hand. “The floor is all yours, Ms. Keener.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Moxie replied with raised eyebrows, still smiling her same rascally smile. “I’ll waste no time, then, in first complimenting you on your work, Mr. Poorman, and, of course, thanking you for allowing me the privilege of reading the manuscript; I’m more than halfway through already and enjoying it thoroughly.”

“Well, thank you very much,” Blue answered sincerely … and sincerely a bit surprised. (For all of his gifts, talents and truly likeable personality, he was quite insecure and overly critical of himself. Consequently, it almost always startled him when someone complimented him.)

“I knew you’d like it,” Able looked at Moxie with an irrepressible sparkle in his eyes. “Right up your alley.”

“True enough, my love; true enough. But as far as this particular alley is concerned, you practically own it, Able Dilettante! I certainly appreciate the arts, but I’m by no means an aesthetic, at least in the more technical sense of the word.”

“You are, however, very intuitive and discerning, and make an excellent critic, so by all means continue … especially since Chairman Blue has given you the floor.” They all chuckled.

“Well, first of all, I would say that, from The Chords of Cilicia, you have personified Beauty – that is, ‘beauty’ with a capital ‘B’ – and that, consequently Beauty is active. If you had not personified, or perhaps even deified, Beauty, then I would have ventured to say you were making an almost Platonic argument in which Beauty is one of the universal Forms that emanates, or shows forth, itself in an amazing variety of ways. Of course, as I said, you do personify Beauty so that Beauty is actually not only active – and we could question whether Plato’s Forms were active, per se – but Beauty is also actually alive.”

“Touché!” Blue sat his empty cup on the table. “Although I don’t know that I quite deify Beauty but, perhaps, that’s another discussion for another time.”

“Still,” Moxie continued, “from what I’ve read so far, and from what Able has shared with me from his own personal experience, I take it Beauty is an active, personal … force, shall we say, that acts upon the human, so that Beauty is the subject, if I may apply a grammatical construction here, and the individual is the direct object, that is, the one acted upon. Am I right?”

“Here, here,” Able agreed. “That which innately resides in the Soul of Humanity in turn acts upon the human, or humans, both individually and collectively. In this case, we are talking about Beauty … or so the great guru, Blue Poorman, effectively argues in The Chords of Cilicia.”

“For now, I’ll pass by the idea of the ‘Soul of Humanity,’” Moxie didn’t give Blue time to respond. “The whole idea seems to at least lean in the direction of Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious,’ but… If we are right that Beauty is an active, personal force acting upon individuals – and, yes, groups – as direct objects of the action, I strongly suspect something else fundamentally important is involved here.”

“And what would that be?” Blue queried.

“Well, this element, if ‘element’ is the right word to use, is actually threaded throughout your work, at least so far as I’ve read, and it is quite simply the element of choice.”

“You mean choosing whether or not to appreciate Beauty, or so many of the faces of Beauty,” Able offered.

“Not quite … or, well, I suppose, but this leads me to one critique I was going to offer anyway, and that is that the concept of appreciation needs to be more … hmmm, tightly defined, I think. I know the two of you know very specifically what you mean by ‘appreciation,’ but I think the average reader would just naturally have an indistinct, general idea in mind because ‘appreciation’ is just one of those words that, you might say, covers a lot of territory but only thinly. Does that make sense?”

“Actually, yes it does,” Blue agreed, “and your critique is gratefully received. Obviously, by ‘appreciation’ I have something deeper and more concrete in mind.”

“O.k., so Beauty acts upon an individual, and that individual apprehends whatever face or expression of Beauty, and then that individual reacts … that is, she or he makes some choice. Ultimately, in the whole of life, she or he must finally at some point make the choice.”

The choice?” Able asked.

“Yeah,” Moxie looked over at him, “the choice of whether or not to go on and live Beauty or, perhaps better put, to allow Beauty to live in and through her. In which case, the reprehensible, malevolent Rev. Fen Sloughheart, surrounded by myriad faces of Beauty all of his life really, somewhere along the line chose, consciously or not, to bar the door, so to speak, of his heart and soul to Beauty; consequently, he chose, and again consciously or not, ugliness.”

“Wow! I never quite thought of it that way but, my oh-so sensual philosopher, you’ve hit on something very important, indeed,” Able responded, nodding his head. “Or as you said, another fundamental element, and I take it that would have something to do with morality, or ethics; the choice is an ethical one. Beauty as an active, personal and, I would certainly say, powerful force only pushes, or leads, the individual to that point … the point of making the choice.”

“Speaking of choices and ugliness, I think the three of you have crossed the line in choosing to publicly malign Rev. Sloughheart; not a very beautiful action, to say the least,” an unknown figured delivered his indictment from the table behind Moxie.

Moxie swung around in the blink of an eye, on the ready with her fully loaded quiver, and gave the man a razor-sharp, drop-dead look. “Hey! I don’t know who the hell you are, but if you wanna jump in the ring and go a few rounds over the character of Sloughheart and whether or not we should be making what you consider unwarranted, public comments about the miscreant, then I’m ready to go! Just ring the bell, man!”

Blue, Able Talk Beauty at the Frosty Parlor

“… Why the creative works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, of Tolstoy and Andrei Rublev, of Mozart and Beethoven?  Why the Colossus, the Pyramids, Herodotus and Tacitus and the Mona Lisa? Why Gregorian chants, symphonies and sonatas, jazz and the blues and Baroque?  Why the magnificent Taj Mahal, the Hagia Sophia, the Sistine Chapel and the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

“Why, in other words, has humanity seemingly desired to tell interesting, captivating stories? To draw and to paint pictures that have no pragmatic value, no strictly practical benefit to the community? Why has humanity, at least from the beginnings of recorded history, always made music and engaged in singing? And yet all of this is part and parcel of the “humanness” of humanity or, as I say, the Soul of Humanity.” Blue Poorman was in his element and enjoying every bit of it; so was Able Dilettante, who was seated on the other side of the table at the Frosty Parlor.

Teens, college students, families with small children, and a few older couples packed the place out on this bright, sun-shiny day. It seemed an unlikely location to discuss philosophy, theology, anthropology, and aesthetics, but Blue and Able didn’t mind. Besides, the Frosty Parlor was honestly the best place in town to go for a fresh, hot cup of cappuccino, for which both were in the mood.

“I know it may sound strange,” Able offered after a sip from his cup, “but when I’m really intense into my drawing or sketching or painting – you know, not just playing around – it almost feels like somehow I rise above where I am, and maybe even when I am; time and location just seem to fade. In what I guess some people would call a mystical-spiritual sense, I ‘go out’ beyond myself.” Able took another sip and hesitatingly added, “Interestingly enough, I guess, this is when I feel closest to God.”

“That makes perfect sense!” Blue responded excitedly, thinking, too, how Able was “going out” beyond his old self in so many other ways. He was delighted this intelligent, talented young man would be creating all the illustrations for his book, The Chords of Cilicia: Aesthetics and the Soul of Humanity; it would mean spending a good deal of quality time together. “In fact, it strikes at the heart of one of the major points of what I’ve written … or maybe more; maybe it actually strikes at the very heart of the whole work, really.

“Beauty creates in us an almost nostalgic longing for something more, higher and better,” Blue continued. “Almost like a road sign, Beauty points us to something, or someone, beyond this natural world; in fact, to that which this natural world cannot provide with complete satisfaction. No wonder, then, that countless numbers of people down through the ages and in our own day and time have been moved, even inspired, by the many faces of Beauty.

“Whether the majestic mountains, lush and serene valleys, peaceful lake; whether by sun, moon and stars, or the smiling face of the newborn infant; whether by great works of art and architecture, riveting novel or heartrending poetry; people the world over, in all times and in all places have been passionately stirred into spontaneous doxology, to lift their hands and laugh and dance … yes, even to praise and worship.”

Blue paused for a moment, considering, then added, “Consequently, when you encounter someone who has no … well, seemingly no innate or natural sense and appreciation of Beauty … someone devoid of all aesthetical sensibility, it’s … striking, even disturbing.” Blue raised his cappuccino for a couple of gulps. “But, again, thousands upon thousands – no, even millions – of people in every age, in every culture, in every part of the world have in some sense or other stood or, perhaps more appropriately, bowed in reverent awe of the divine, or supernatural. In this delicately balanced, finely tuned world of ours, filled with such variety of creative beauty, generations upon generations have testified to having experienced the Eternal, the Divine, or at least something very much spiritual.”

“So we can say,” Able cautiously ventured, “that Beauty is really in the heart of the beholder; the eye only apprehends what the heart already intuitively recognizes and genuinely appreciates as an expression or reflection of Beauty itself.”

Blue was stunned, to say the least; he nearly tossed the remainder of his drink on the older couple at the next table. As it was, he had only a slight spill to wipe up. “Yes … yes, exactly! Beauty, as Beauty, intrinsically resides in the Soul of Humanity. This explains both the human urge toward beautiful creativity, as well as, generally speaking, the human being’s innate appreciation of Beauty in its myriad expressions.”

Able turned his almost empty cup two or three times on the table, looking out the window rather meditatively. “‘The heavens herald your glory, O God, and the skies display your handiwork. Day after day they tell their story, and night after night they reveal the depth of their understanding,’” Able intoned. “‘Without speech, without words, without even an audible voice, their cry echoes through the entire world, and their message reaches the ends of the earth.’”

Able then looked back at Blue. “But like you said there are those who seem to be totally void of any intuitive sense and appreciation of Beauty. And I agree with you; they are disturbing, to say the least.” Able chuckled then and finished off his cappuccino. “Of course, I’ve only barely known one such person, and that through years of only distant association in the church – well, my old church – but it strikes me that in all that time this man never evinced any understanding, much less appreciation, of art or literature, sculpture or architecture, poetry or what-have-you. Not in his sermons or Bible studies or church newsletter articles; not in the way he talked to people, or what he talked about in any conversation I ever knew anything about… Now that I think about it, he really was – or, I should say, is – a rather frightening man; like a soulless man; an altogether ugly man.”

“Ugly, indeed,” Blue agreed. “And, of course, you’re talking about the infamous Rev. Fen Sloughheart.” At the mention of the name, several heads suddenly turned, much to both Blue and Able’s notice. Evidently, quite a few people were paying at least passing attention to their conversation.

“Well! Imagine the two of you chopping philosophy at the Frosty Parlor!” Moxie Keener suddenly appeared by their table. “This can’t exactly be a confidential meeting.” Blue and Able both knew that all-too-well now! “Mind if I join in? Or would that be too intrusive and disruptive?” Able could only think, Oh God! Thank you! If anyone here’s inclined to start any kind of wrangle over Sloughheart, then I sure as hell want Moxie here!

“Moxie Keener,” Blue laughed comfortably, despite the slight discomfort he was now feeling, “you would never be intruding in our conversation – whenever, whatever the subject – but disruptive?” He and Able both laughed. “I couldn’t expect any less from you, could I? In fact, I dare say I’d be disappointed if you didn’t add some disruption.”

“Ha! O.k. I’ll accept that … umm, backhanded compliment and join you guys… And I’ll be sure not to disappoint!” Moxie laughed as she took a seat with her stemming cup of hot coffee.

Checking the Checklist With Joy

JoySerious4Riding down the road with Effete early Tuesday morning with an important to-do list, Joy was certainly thankful Moxie had volunteered to watch the boys. Able had a couple of classes that day, but hers all landed on Mondays and Wednesdays this term, and Moxie kind of liked the idea of playing around with Rue and Bane anyway. Not that she really knew them – she didn’t – but Moxie could tell they needed some love and attention … and fun. She seemed more than happy to give it. Besides which, she thought she needed some time away from Able, and laughing and horsing around with a couple of kids seemed like an awesome way to spend that time.

Effete didn’t seem too sure about leaving the boys with Moxie when she answered the door in her rather scanty, black halter top and skin-tight sleep shorts. And, of course, the heart and thorns tattoo in the middle of her lower back didn’t help alleviate any of Effete’s concerns, but Joy told her Moxie had never been known to sacrifice before sundown, adding with a good deal of laughter that they’d be back well before night. Effete was not at all convinced but agreed anyway. After all, even a tattooed, barely-clothed girl had to be better than the hell they’d escaped. Besides, it was high time the boys got to know people outside of fundamentalist circles.

“Are you o.k., Effete?” Joy asked as they stopped at a red light. “They really will be fine, I promise you. Moxie’ll take good care of them, I swear.” And she couldn’t help but laugh again. “Really, it’s pretty early. She just got out of bed… They’ll be fine, o.k.? While we’re running around they’ll have a blast. Moxie’s just like that… Ha! She’ll probably have them flying off the roof in an hour or so…” Joy caught herself. “Just kidding!” She patted Effete on the leg. “Just kidding, but they’ll be alright and they’ll have fun. Meanwhile, we’ll do what we need to do today … every last, tough, boring, painful thing!” The light turned and she took off again.

“You probably think I’m being a real bumpkin or something,” Effete started. “I guess it’s just, I’ve never really left them with anyone before … not really. And someone I don’t know, or … ha! Never met, and … God! I’ve been in one place for so long … one stinking, super-strict, super-religious prison for so, so long…”

“It’s o.k., Effete.” Joy took her hand and gently squeezed.

“If you say they’ll be alright, then I know they’ll be alright. She just seems so … different than what I’m used to.”

“Oh yeah!” Joy erupted into a good belly laugh. “Yeah, she definitely is!” Joy could barely contain herself. “Moxie Keener is one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure… Oh God! You don’t know the half of it…” Joy looked over at the growing fear in Effete’s widening eyes. “And this isn’t really helping, is it?”

“No.” Effete shook her head slowly. “Not at all.” She shook her head a couple more times. “In fact, I think you’d do better this morning if you played straight-laced pastor … or I think I might jump the car and go back screaming for the very lives of my dear children.”

“Oh good heavens, Effete!” Joy chuckled. “No … Come on, I mean it. They’re alright and so are we.” She patted her leg again. “Now! Our checklist!”

“Ugh! I don’t think I can do this… Not all in one day.”

“It’s really not that much, and it’s necessary. Remember, we talked about this last night … far too late last night!” Joy looked over and winked. “Until you finally  rolled over and started sawing some logs!”

“I don’t snore, do I? Did I keep you up? I’m so sorry!”

“Effete! Quit that!” Joy teased her with a mock frown. “And, no, you don’t snore … much. Anyway! Item number one on the agenda. We’re going to see the attorney, Justin Case – good man, great experience, excellent reputation – and he’s a member of my church. Remember what we went over yesterday? I know you do. ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ Right? Be upfront and completely honest – don’t be afraid, I’ll be there the whole time – but keep it to-the-point. Summary of background and history, then ask about restraining order, then temporary custody, and finally divorce and full, permanent custody. In that order, and we don’t let him stray. Right?”

“Yes… Right.” Effete sounded somewhat uncertain and paused for a minute. Joy was just about to get discouraged when Effete nodded her head and said again, “Yep! That’s the plan. I’ve got it, captain!”

“Well, o.k. then!” Joy felt a rush of relief. It was bound to be a long day; she sure didn’t need Effete bowing out on her this early in the game! “Next, we make our way to Dr. Pert Kibitz – friend of mine from high school, actually – and you’re just going to … really just kind of get to know her today. She may, and I stress may, do an initial evaluation if  you both feel comfortable. But mainly it’s an introduction and opportunity to get to know each other, and you’ll love her! She’s very approachable and relaxing, not at all intimidating. And you’ll know right off the bat she wants you to feel as much at ease as possible… I really think it’ll be good.”

After visiting Effete in the hospital that first night, Joy decided she definitely needed an experienced, professional counselor in the loop. Especially if she was going to play the role of sturdy companion and faithful friend. Like her old mentor, Dr. Sharpman, had told her, it wouldn’t be wise trying to wear the hat of psychologist, too … and she wasn’t one anyway! So she’d called up her friend, Pert – now the respected Doctor  Kibitz – to ask for help.  Of course, Pert agreed and invited Joy to bring Effete over Tuesday morning and, best of all, it would be gratis. No charge, which made Joy’s already strained pocketbook quite happy.

“Are you going to be there?”

“Well, of course…” Joy started to answer. “Oh, you mean in the room? Well … I’ll introduce you, and … I may stay for a couple of minutes, but the two of you need to talk privately. You’ll be alight, Effete, I promise.” Joy rubbed her leg reassuringly. “Pert’s a wonderful person. You’ll get along fine. Just remember what we’ve said. You have nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to feel guilty or down on yourself or humiliated or anything like that, and Pert Kibitz will not  do or say anything  to make you feel that way, either. Promise. She’s very understanding, and not only a good person but an excellent counselor, too. And you need that right now.”

“O.k.” Effete breathed out hard. “And then lunch, right?”

“Right!” Joy beamed. “But not just any lunch. We’re meeting Sage Mentor at that little hole-in-the-wall I told you about.”

“She’s the caseworker, right?”

“Yes, but more than that, Sage is just an all-round good adviser. Of course, she’ll want to set up a time to meet Rue and Bane, probably at home – my home … or, guess I should say ‘our’ home now,” Joy grinned and winked at Effete, who allowed herself only the slightest smile in return. “We’ll want to tell her about meeting with the attorney and counselor – and sooner than later put all three in touch with each other so they’re all on the same team with the same game plan, but anyway – we’ll tell her about the morning, then ask specifically about the boys. All the do’s and don’ts and what to be careful about. That sort of thing. And she’ll have some good advice.”

“I’m already exhausted.”

“Chin up, my dear, it’s still too early for napping.” Joy slowed to a stop at another red light in downtown Splinterbit. They could see the courthouse two blocks down, surrounded by mostly shady pseudo-businesses, like payday loan-sharks and bail bondsmen. It somehow seemed fitting to Joy, though, an uninterrupted landscape of exploitation and injustice. “Anyway, the afternoon’s an easy ride. We’ll go to the post office to have your address changed, but unlisted, and then from there to the grocery store … not  the one you usually go to, of course, but the other one I told you about last night when you were yawning in my ear.”

“I did not!” Effete cackled. “Did I?”

“The one just outside town.” Joy ignored the question. “It’s a fun little place. They’ve got a lot of organic stuff at some pretty good prices.”

“Good. After eating a big, fat, juicy hamburger and greasy fries for lunch we’ll be ready for healthy, right?”

“Right!” Joy laughed as she pulled her car into the left turn lane. “It’s balance. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. See? You just gotta be consistent. Consistency’s the key, my dear!”  They both laughed, especially Effete for the first time that morning. It felt good.

“Thank you.” Effete grabbed Joy’s hand. “For everything… I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you.”

“You’re certainly welcome…” Joy pulled into a parking space in front of an unassuming little office, then looked straight into Effete’s eyes. “More than welcome. It’s an honor to know and love someone as kind and wonderful and beautiful as you, Effete… And I mean that with all my heart.” She smiled. “And no matter how exhausting all this may be for both of us, we’re gonna make it.” Joy leaned in closer. “Now, let’s go in, meet Mr. Justin Case, and get item number one checked off our check list. Okay?”

Moxie and Joy Step Through Able Grief

MoxieSS4“Well, o.k. then! Prepare for incoming missiles of counsel!” Joy shifted on the couch and Moxie just laughed.  “Here it is, straight from Dr. Joy at no charge!”

“Wow! What a deal! Free session in the Brighterday clinic, and all to save my young love life. Can’t beat that!” Moxie leaned back in the recliner then, allowing herself to relax a little as Joy took a deep breath before the plunge.

“Well, first of all, if I had to guess, I’d say Able is going through something like grief. In fact, it’s probably very similar, although the steps, or stages, may be a little mixed up.”

“You mean, like, the stages of grief. Denial, anger, sadness and whatever else?”

“Yeah, whatever else.” Joy laughed. “Honestly, if he hasn’t hit them all, he probably will, because if you think about it, it really is like he’s lost somebody … in fact, a whole lot of somebodies, including his own life, in a way.”

“I get that…” Moxie turned it over in her mind. “Not that I’ve thought of it quite like grief over losing a loved one … but I guess that’s really kind of what’s happened. I knew it was serious when he decided to move out, leave his church, and essentially bid farewell to so many people he’s known for most of his life… Guess it really is  like death.”

“Yep, it is. And so don’t be surprised if you find him going through some denial, just like people do when they’re grieving. You know, the whole world suddenly seems emptier, and confusing, maybe even senseless. Of course, early in the whole process, denial is a kind of God-given survival mechanism that kicks in to help us cope. All the emotions raging around inside are just too much for us to take all at once and, so, we only let in a little bit at a time.”

“So…” Joy continued. “One day pretty soon – maybe even tomorrow, who knows – Able may wake up flying high as a kite, saying, ‘Oh my God! Everything’s wonderful! Life is great!’ But then, you’ll know everything’s not  wonderful, and that’s where you’ve gotta be careful. Take it as it comes, of course, but soberly … almost with a grain of salt. This early in the game everything is far from being wonderful. It can’t be; not quite yet.”

“Then there’s the anger, I suppose,” Moxie anticipated the next stage. “Like we talked about before.”

“Yeah… And Moxie, that could end up being the most difficult for you. Not to scare you off, o.k.  Please believe me, I don’t want to do that, but… He’s feeling adrift right now, or to use an old cliché, like a ship without a rudder. And like we’ve talked about, too, he’s probably dealing with some fear… Well, eventually you get to the point where denial’s not enough; it just doesn’t cut it. One very natural reaction is anger.”

“And with this, you sometimes get some fist-shaking, which is what you’ve got to be ready for.” Joy leaned forward. “Mox, I’m just telling you this so you can be on your guard, or … bolster your heart, so to speak. Because we humans have an innate tendency to blame, especially when we’re uncomfortable and everything seems chaotic and confusing, or just not-right. You know, it’s the old story of Adam blaming Eve, and Eve blaming the snake.”

“And that’ll be Able blaming me, of course.” Moxie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Great! So I get to play Eve now… Ha! I may end up being the subject of some fundy’s sick-ass sermon!”

“Yeah, that might happen,” Joy eyeballed Moxie seriously. “And that’s what I mean. Feelings can be overwhelming, no doubt about it, and disorienting. Able may wake up tomorrow feeling great, then he may wake up next week wondering what the hell is going on and asking whose fault it is, and when he rolls over in bed, who’s the first person he’s gonna see? The very one he left home, church and family for… You. Moxie Keener.”

“The Jezebel. The serpent. The great temptress. Yeah, I get it!”

“Maybe. But, then, maybe you and other people, too. Maybe you and his parents and the church and the college and God, along with his … first grade Sunday school teacher, who knows?” Joy threw her hands up. “It may not be very logical, o.k. But all of the stress and confusion and feeling disoriented could send him into a kind of tailspin. And anger is … well, how do I put it? Strange as it may sound, it’s like a strengthening … like you’re muscling up your inner core.”

“Ha!” Moxie’s eyebrows shot up. “Never heard it put like that before!”

“Well, yeah.  I know it sounds crazy, but anger can make you feel strong … sort of.  God, if I had the words.” Joy shook her head. “But it’s like you’re pulling all of those different, warring feelings together into one emotion and giving it direction.  And for awhile, at least, this sort of grounds you … which, when you think about it, is necessary … especially in the grief process. Now, of course, anger’s not a good place to stay! But at some point, it can be healthy…  It’s just in this case, it may be pretty damn miserable for you!”

“Yeah!  I think I got that, Dr. Joy!” Moxie chuckled sarcastically. “Me bad; my fault… Burn the witch! Great, but let’s just say I survive, and move on to the next stage, huh?”

“Moxie Keener,” Joy smiled and wagged her head. “You’re the one who drove into this thing a thousand miles an hour. I’m just trying to put some road signs in place to hopefully keep you from driving headlong over a cliff… You’re not  bad, o.k.? Moxie Keener is not  the wicked witch, or the serpent, or any other nasty character.” Joy laughed now and shook her head again. “But you are unique … and  exciting and beautiful and intelligent, all rolled into one.”

“Thanks.” Moxie had to look away, but Joy could just see her barely blushing. “Hope Able still feels that way,” she almost whispered to herself.

“And, you know, after all is said and done,  I really think he will.” Joy scooted over on the couch closest to where Moxie was sitting and leaned toward her. “But … we said something before about him possibly going back … and that’s part of this process, too.  Maybe it’ll happen; maybe it won’t.  But at some point, especially when he’s exhausted the anger – and that happens, by the way, because sometimes you just get plain tired – then he’ll start bargaining with himself.”

“Bargaining? Like making a deal? Hadn’t heard that one before.”

“Yep. Deal-making’s a pretty good way of putting it, actually. He’ll start reasoning with himself. You know, like, ‘maybe things weren’t so bad after all. Maybe, just maybe, some little changes here and there would have been enough. Maybe leaving and cutting ties was too radical. Maybe it wasn’t necessary, and I just jumped the gun.’  And, of course, the big one, which is something like, ‘Look! I’m worse off than I was before…’ Even though it’s not true.”

“You really think he could forget that easily?”

“Of course. Remember what we said about comfort in the familiar? His life in his world … the only world he’s known? And now he’s out in a much bigger world, totally different, with all these conflicting thoughts and emotions whirling around inside, and anger only gets him so far… Yes. Hell yes! He could very easily sit down one day, totally spent – and I mean exhausted, wiped out – and start asking these questions, seriously thinking about a return voyage.”

“Convinced it’ll be much better and brighter, I’m sure, but making a goddamn fool of himself!” Moxie was practically in tears again just thinking about the possibility. Joy reached out and put a hand on her knee.

“Moxie,” Joy leaned in a little more and spoke softly. “It may happen; it may not. All you can do is prepare as best you can … be there for him, love him, encourage him … but also keep yourself steady and healthy.  This is big.” Joy paused for emphasis. “Right now … at this point in time, difficult as it is, you’re the anchor…  If he’s at all like a ship without a rudder, he damn sure needs an anchor and Mox, you’re it… But there’s danger there, too.”


“Well, this pendulum can swing from one extreme to the other, my love. One day he may be angry and blaming you; the next he might be clinging to you for dear life… It’s turbulent waters you’re sailing right now, and there’s no way around it, Mox. Both of you will drive straight through, or he’ll turn around and head back for the home harbor. But if you make it through the worst of the storm, the quieting down could be a very sad time for Able.”

“When we’ve made it through, he’ll be sad?” Moxie sounded perplexed.

“Not necessarily, but it could happen, just like in grieving.” Joy took Moxie’s hand and gently squeezed. “When he realizes that there’s no going back, or at least no good reason; that that life, that world is truly behind and he’s out on the open sea, so to speak, charting an unknown course, well… at first it may not matter how calm the waters are. In fact, the relative calm and quiet may actually seem … melancholy, you might say.”

“I think he’s already there, actually. Like I said, he seems down all the time now.”

“True, but … that may be – and I’m saying may  because none of this is written in stone – but it may  be just the beginning. And, anyway, remember that none of what we’re talking about right now is an exact step-by-step process. These are just things to be aware of and prepare for, at least as well as you can, so you’re not caught completely off-guard … for your sake and  his.  But, hey,  if that ship sails through the storm and you make it through the melancholy waters, too, the last is the best.”

“And what’s that?”

“Living. Call it ‘resurrection.’” Moxie looked up at Joy and Joy smiled. “Life after death. And that’s not like saying, ‘well, o.k.’ or ‘it’s alright.’ No. Able may still have a sense of loss, maybe some sadness … but you’ll turn that ship toward the setting sun to chase the light into the dawning of a new world, the world you call your own … together.” Moxie’s eyes watered and her lips trembled. Joy gently placed a hand on her cheek. “Are you ready for this, Mox?”