Biblical Apples

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Chapter 18: Matthew 7:20

Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

“It’s a four-day event,” Donna told Mike as they ate breakfast together on the second Monday after the Thanksgiving break. “I told you about it a month ago; don’t you remember?”

“So you’re going to miss the sixth floor holiday party?”

“Not just me, Mike. Mary is going as well. We’re flying out Wednesday and leaving Sunday afternoon after closing ceremonies. It’s a big deal. HOSA started this student leadership conference a couple of years ago, and it’s a great way to network. All the third-year nursing students are expected to go.”

“They don’t have anything more local than Orlando?”

“Sounds like you’re going to miss me?”

“Damn straight, I’m going to miss you!”

“I don’t know. The two of you without us sounds like a recipe for bad-boy behavior.” She committed to a light laugh.

“Oh, and the two of you, without us, poolside in your bikinis, doesn’t allow for bad girl behavior?”

“I wish, Mike. Remind me to show you the agenda that begins as soon as we get to the Sheraton. Trust me when I tell you that there is no down time, and not too sure about my bikini body in December.”

“You wish?”

“Hey, I thought I was the one who’s jealous. Where’s this coming from?”

“Nah, I know that this is something you’ve got to do. I’m just glad you’re flying out Wednesday because they’re talking about the weather getting really shitty come Friday night. It’s weird, but they’re predicting a lot of snow which, even for us, is pretty early.”

“Yeah, I saw that on the news last night. That is a little strange. Hey, John is taking Mary and me to the airport. Can you come along? It’s Wednesday,” Donna pleaded. “This way you’ll miss me for a couple less hours.”

The pre-holiday airport congestion was still a week away from its peak, so getting there and through security went quickly. Donna was pensive.

“I was only half joking when I talked about bad-boy behavior, Mike.” She squeezed him tightly at the airport gate. “Try not to have too good a time while I’m away.” As she let him go and looked up at him, her eyes were a little watery.

“Hey, I’m going to miss you. Have a safe trip. Can’t wait for Sunday night when you get back.” He embraced her firmly and inhaled as though that breath would have a chance to sustain him during her absence.

A light rain began to fall, the kind that teases at winter with gray skies somewhere between sleepy and angry. John turned on the wipers, and the two listened to the steady cadence, alone in their thoughts.

"So, how are things with you and Mary?" Mike broke in just before the silence became official. "Looks like she was holding on for dear life when she said goodbye."

John smiled, cut in on the wipers' dance, and offered, “Well, I think Mary and I have a balance in our relationship, and space sometimes is a good thing. Right now, we only go to church twice a month, thank God.” He laughed and signaled to merge onto the slower right lane, and they both watched as the rain gave way to billowy snowflakes.

“Mary and I really love each other, Word. I can see myself marrying her. She’s a keeper. That thin body is going to wear well over time, and she’s definitely loyal.”

“You make her sound like a horse at auction. Does she have nice teeth?”

“Well, what about you and Donna?” John asked after laughing at Mike’s comment. “Cause I got to tell you, that lumberjack shirt she sleeps in looks way too big for her."

“That’s where it went. I’ve been looking for that shirt, especially now that it’s getting cold.”

The two friends laughed, and then the silence returned providing the acoustics for the music to fill the void.

As Mike listened to “Lady”, he looked out his foggy window at the road signs, the mile markers, and the billboards that had existed for as long as he could remember when taking this trip. In the approaching distance, he saw the flashing red ball atop the Penobscot Building. These were familiars that gave him a sense of permanence. A little flash of lightning re-directed him to thinking about Donna, and he imagined the curves of her body re-shaping his shirt and lending its finespun scent to the fabric. His mind sighed as he thought about where his life was perched. Was he on the precipice of adulthood or the construction site dirt pile that he climbed as a little boy?

The cassette had finished playing and neither of them moved to insert a new one or even invite a radio station to intrude on the stubborn silence. The tempo of the wipers and the sound of the tires smearing the wet road kept them company and served as the white noise to accent their private thoughts for the remainder of the ride back.

“Be wary of strangers bringing gifts,” Frank cautioned as he entered 619 on Friday night. The bowl was hastily carved out of a small tree stump and had a stapled on piece of window screening lining it. From its side, a hose came out of a rubber seal and ended at an army surplus store gas mask.

“I bring this as a peace offering, gents,” Frank had said after he pulled the apparatus out of a duffel bag and placed it on the dorm room floor.

“What the fuck!” John laughed with everyone else and asked, “What do you mean by peace offering?” He fired up a joint and passed it to Frank.

“Well, let’s face it,” Frank took a drag and shifted his eyes from John to Andy, then Mike to Kurt, “we seem to be more distant from one another this year, and that’s been bothering me, and I’d like to use this floor party for us to go back to the good times, especially since you guys are single for this weekend.”

“How does this thing work?” Andy asked as he picked up the tree stump bowl portion and examined it.

“Well, Y.A.,” Frank began, “the stump holds a half ounce of dope, and you need a butane torch to get it going and keep it going. The gas mask kind of lets you inhale from your pores and even your eyeballs. A fun thing to do with it is have everyone bring some of their stash and throw it in the mix, kind of a stoner’s pot luck party,” he laughed.

“This is cool,” John said. “We should use it tomorrow night.”

“I thought you might say that, Eggs,” Frank took a hit off the joint which had worked its way back to him, “so I’m proposing that you guys join us by being the second room on the floor to have a party away from the party. We’ll keep it small, and I’ll have Toots get the word out to a few of our bar patrons. We can have a specific time for it, maybe 11:00. What do you say?”

“Sounds good to me, Frankie, but hey, I thought Water J was coming by tonight?”

“Squire James is studying, my friends. Apparently, there is a European History class that might keep the nation’s second leading scorer off the court."

“That’s fucked up,” John said.

Mike, who had remained silent to that point, chimed in. “Speaking of Toots, Frankie, what really goes on in that study room after hours?”

“Ros, Toots is a licensed masseuse.” Frank looked at the floor as he spoke. “She picks up some spare coin when she can attend big functions and offer her services. A half-hour massage is $25.”

“And Frankie, maybe this is why we have distanced ourselves from you; you’re full of shit,” Mike said angrily.

“Do you expect anyone to believe that’s all that goes on in there?” Kurt probed.

At this point, Andy rummaged through the cassette case and placed one in the TEAC. He still had it cued to one of Toots’s sessions and let it play for Frank.

As he listened, Frank’s eyes grew wide, and a wry smile appeared on his face, making him look like a little kid who just got caught doing something wrong. “That’s a good fucking recording, gents,” he complimented them after Andy pressed the stop button. “Okay, I call guy code once more. Toots is a licensed masseuse, and she has given and will give basic $25 rubdowns for anyone who doesn’t want anything more. But her store’s open to negotiations. It’s another $50 for a hand job; $50 more for a blow job; and $200 for what she calls the surf and turf. The customer has to bring it up, though. This arrangement has worked out real well for all of us in 629.”

“How’s that?” Kurt interrupted.

“It’s like I shared with Ros a while back. Each of us can get what we want from her once a week for free; she makes the time, and her being around is thanks to Little John’s connections. Everyone wins!”

“What about Fred?” Mike asked.

“Fred likes to take pictures, so Toots spreads ’em for him, and he gets real close with that macro zoom lens. He’s got a lot of high-end shit in that camera bag.”

“That’s all she’s done with him?” Andy asked.

“I asked Toots the same question, and she told me that’s all he wanted. She even tried to coax him, but he freaked out and walked out of the room.”

“Weird,” John said.

“That’s Fred,. Okay, so cat’s out of the bag. Can we go back to being cool with each other again?” Frank slapped hands with the group, reached into his jacket pocket and threw a plastic baggie containing what looked like an ounce of dope into the bowl. “That’s courtesy of Little John; he wants to make everything right and has appreciated your hospitality from earlier in the year.”

“Holy shit! Look outside, guys!” John motioned everyone to look out the window. “There has to be half a foot of snow on the ground, and look at the sky! Fucking A!”

During the hour that the group was in the room, the big snowflakes that had started fluttering around and teasing at the notion of winter, had multiplied into a blinding storm as if the Snow God was opening large bags of flour and emptying them onto the landscape of Hillview College. The wind was whistling as if directing the snow to make its way toward the street lights, the trees, the valleys, the hills, and anywhere else it might collect and form drifts.

“Turn on the fucking news,” Frank directed. “It’s 10:00 o’clock, so the early edition has got to be covering this.”

At that point, there was a knock on the door, and John got up to open it. “Hey, Little John, man, thanks for the dope! Come on in.”

Little John had a curious look on his face as he passed on the invite to take the last few hits of the roach that had been attached to the hemostat. “Ha, ha, ha! Thanks, but I’m already way ahead of you. You know this will be my first Christmas out of the joint in seven years. I was wishing for some early snow, but I guess I might have wished a little too hard, ha, ha, ha!”

“Did you guys hear that?” Kurt asked. They think we might get two feet of snow!” Everyone’s attention turned back to the television.

“Hey, I saw on the news that you guys are getting hammered by snow,” Donna said when she called around midnight.

“Yeah, they don’t expect it to stop until tomorrow afternoon, and they think we might get two feet. Hopefully, they don’t cancel your flight back.”

“This conference is really good, but I really wish I was there. I would love to walk through the snow with you all bundled up, then thaw together inside, letting our naked bodies heat each other up under the covers.”

“Donna, is this phone sex?”

“I believe it is, Mike. Go ahead and pull it out!” Donna laughed. “I miss you so much. Try not to have too much fun at the floor party, considering everyone’s probably stranded this weekend.”

After Mike hung up, he decided to see the weather firsthand. He lit up a Merit just outside Vanover’s entrance. The snow continued to fall heavily with gigantic flakes giving the campus a Christmas card kind of look. With the lights on all the buildings southward providing a halo on the horizon, and the empty bridge straight ahead, he took a long drag off of his cigarette and pretended he was the last man on Earth. The wind whistled in low tones as though it were blowing across a bottle top. There was no other sound as what had to be more than a foot of snow muffled and insulated his immediate world until he heard a hoarse voice behind him. “Hey, let me bum a square off you.” As Mike presented his pack and struck a light, Little John laughed and said, “Oh what a night!”

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